IoT for Worker Safety

Andy Slote - Director of Customer Success for ObjectSpectrum

February 1, 2024

The quest for worker safety never ends, particularly in industrial settings, and it’s one of the most important parts of any company’s safety plan. Regulation drives many of the safeguards, policies, and procedures that are put in place. The other incentive is to protect the reputation and financial situation of the company; much of which is difficult (if not impossible) to repair after the fact.

Experience and regulation mean that most industrial environments (ideally) already have significant safety measures. However, the latest Internet of Things safety solutions may be less costly and more effective than the standard approaches, making them good candidates when making improvements. IoT can also add new capabilities as well, to raise the level of awareness and further lower the potential risks.

IoT can generate data about the industrial space, providing information to improve safety. Some examples include:

  • Worker locations and behavior
  • Machine performance
  • Environmental conditions

Worker Locations and Behavior

When team members work in a defined area, entry/exit monitoring provides a means to determine if they are at their workstations. Other zones may be accessible only by specific personnel or at certain times of the day (during scheduled downtime for a manufacturing line, for example). Conversely, this type of sensing can determine if someone is entering a sensitive area, and trigger immediate alerts, spurring action to prevent a potential problem.

Motion sensing solutions can detect if there is (or is no) activity in an area. If someone is supposed to be working at their station, zero motion could indicate a problem. Did they fall or get injured, or are they possibly experiencing a medical emergency? And modern IoT “motion sensing” goes way beyond basic IR sensors, incorporating advanced technologies like computer vision and machine learning.

Workers may be allowed in an area but are required to maintain distance from specific zones or machinery. Proximity sensing can warn them upon getting too close and notify management about violations for training purposes or other actions.

Another condition to alert on might be when there are too many people in an area. The opposite situation may also be important to flag if it’s in a location where solo presence is not allowed due to safety concerns.

How much time staff spends in an area could be an essential item to track. If someone typically enters a specific zone briefly and suddenly remains there for an extended period, is this an indication of a potential safety issue?

Finally, simple wirelessly connected “push button” devices (sometimes called panic buttons) are low-cost and easy to install in areas where it makes sense to provide access. Outfitting workers with connected wearable devices is another option (and many of those include fall and “man down” detection). In either case, it’s a great solution that lets someone quickly signal when they see a potential problem or that they need assistance.

Unrecognizable senior man pushing panic button on emergency equipment for elderly people hung on his chest, closeup shot of male hand pressing alarm button for quick help, cropped image

Machine Performance

While regular maintenance schedules are a staple in most industrial environments, it also puts personnel at risk. Sensors on machinery to record things like vibration and temperature can reduce the number of times someone is near a potentially hazardous location.

Machine breakdowns can present hazards such as fires, air quality degradation, airborne metal fragments, etc. The same vibration and temperature sensors can detect an impending failure and alert someone before it happens so that they can take preemptive steps to avoid it.  

Environmental Conditions

Detection of air quality in the indoor environment is an excellent use of IoT technology. Sensing everything from poor air quality to the presence of toxic concentrations of various gases can protect employees from harm, even if the harm isn’t immediately obvious. Monitoring temperature, humidity, and airflow in specific zones can reveal opportunities to increase ventilation or adjust HVAC equipment, to ensure maximum comfort and reduce avoidable health problems.

Step It Up With Automation

In many cases, automation of responses to conditions provides a quicker response, increasing the potential safety benefits. Examples include:

  • Automatically adjusting HVAC or ventilation in response to sensor data about pollutants, temperature, or humidity
  • Shutting down machines when data indicates an impending critical situation
  • Coordinating robotics and other automated machines with worker presence

These are just a few examples of how IoT can improve worker safety, both acute and long-term. The technology options for implementing solutions include LoRaWAN, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and others. And, as with all complex projects, choosing a partner with the right expertise is critical for success.