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Preventing Workplace Injuries: What Is Smart PPE?

By Gerald Connor
Preventing Workplace Injuries: What Is Smart PPE?

The integration of smart technologies into the personal protection equipment used by workers across all industries may help improve on-the-job safety. In recent years, the development of smart technologies has boomed. The advent of smart tech allows people greater connectivity and insights in nearly all aspects of their lives, from the ability to turn the lights on or off from across the country or world, to the ability to measure their health and performance. Recognizing the benefits smart technologies offer, manufacturers in the protective equipment space have started integrating these features into their gear.

Enhanced Personal Protection Equipment

Smart PPE is equipment and workwear used for safety purposes on job sites that connect to the internet or other devices, such as tablets or software through Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. Such technology may integrate into helmets, eye protection, and other workwear and equipment used to help protect workers from on-the-job injuries. Streaming real-time information, smart PPE may do even more than traditional protective gear to improve safety and reduce injuries or illnesses for workers in some of the most hazardous industries and jobs.

Smart Wearables and Sensors

Through smart PPE technology, manufacturers build-in sensors and other intelligent electronic devices into workwear and safety gear. To provide employees the greatest possible protection against workplace accidents, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration requires employers to provide workers with the appropriate personal safety gear given the worksite hazards and to train workers on the use and care of their safety gear. While in use, smart gear provides this necessary protection, while also collecting data, making automatic adjustments to working conditions or hazards, and sending push notifications to workers or their supervisors. The sensors in intelligent smart gear may observe and respond to external temperatures and the wearers’ body temperatures, as well as monitor work areas for gas, chemicals, sound, heat, and other environmental factors.

Smart Safety Helmets

Safety Helmets equipped with smart technology may include communication devices, cameras, and sensors to provide information and boost their protective functions. The inclusion of these technologies may help evaluate situations, provide information, detect hazards, and provide GPS tracking for lone workers or those in certain types of hazardous working environments. Further, smart helmets may allow workers to more effectively communicate with co-workers, supervisors, and others on the job site when dealing with loud conditions or low visibility.

Smart Safety Eyewear

Intelligent safety eyewear may help safeguard workers’ sight and give them easier access to data on the job site. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 2,000 workers suffer occupational eye injuries every day across the U.S. Smart eyewear may include displays in the corner of the lens, help alert wearers to potential hazards and provide them with necessary information while on the job while protecting them from chemicals, foreign objects, burns, radiation exposure, and other factors that commonly contribute to work-related eye injuries.

Smart Safety Garments

Intelligent safety garments may include shirts, vests, gloves, and even the shoes workers wear. The sensors in smart workwear may help in detecting and evaluating dangerous situations, such as the risk of slipping or falling, spending time in extreme temperatures, or working in areas with the potential for hazardous exposures. Using garments with intelligent technology may alert wearers to possible risks, allowing them to take appropriate action to avoid them, as well as inform supervisors or safety personnel if situations arise in which the wearers are in danger.

Reduce Work-Related Injury While Improving Efficiency

As compared to the traditional safety gear worn by workers, the advanced features of smart PPE options enhance efficiency and increase usability, while helping reduce the risk of workplace accidents and injuries. In addition to protecting workers from potential workplace hazards, intelligent PPE allows workers and employers to proactively address worksite dangers before they cause accidents on the job. The sensors integrated into smart PPE may allow the automation of processes that previously required manual effort. Accelerating the communication between safety professionals and workers in the field, smart safety gear may help increase worker productivity and reduce costs.

The Challenges of Smart PPE

Implementing smart PPE in the workplace does not come without challenges. For smaller companies, the price of safety gear equipped with smart technologies may prevent them from using these options; and issues may arise in maintaining the security of workers’ sensitive personal information. Learning to calibrate and use smart PPE, like familiarizing with most new technologies, has a learning curve. However, due to the nature of the work in which this type of safety equipment gets used, technology malfunctions or failures could mean the difference between life and death. As employers and workers take advantage of the advancements in safety garments and gear, the benefits may outweigh these potential downsides.