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New smart phone app for on-site worker safety

A new smartphone app with a difference - safe@work - is opening up a range of on-site safety applications for workers on projects.

A new smartphone app with a difference - safe@work - is opening up a range of on-site safety applications for workers on projects. On-site safety standards could change drastically with the integration of biometric and location-based sensor technology into clothing quickly becoming a reality.

In early 2014, Human Condition, a global organisation and think tank, announced details of its ‘Smart Safety Apparel’. This intelligent clothing line includes a hard hat and high-vis vest, both embedded with technology that take safety to the next level.

The high-vis vest, for example, includes a body vitals monitor, an inflatable airbag collar, a GPS sensor and repetitive motion sensing. In theory, if a worker were to have a fall or accident on site, the sensors integrated into the clothing could immediately notify the right individuals on site or in a control room through the interconnected technologies.

Kerry Plowright, CEO of Aeeris Early Warning Network (EWN), explains that innovations in safety equipment, such as clothing, open up a range of preventative measures for on-site labourers. “You can tell if someone is having problems, and in a large workforce that could be anything from a heart attack to heatstroke,” he says. “Every second day, we’re seeing some sort of revolutionary technology coming out.”

While Mr. Plowright certainly sees the potential safety applications in technologies such as Smart Safety Apparel in the near future, his focus is vehemently on the now.

Smartphones have quickly become a must-have accessory for everyday working life, particularly across construction, infrastructure, transport and logistic sectors. A conventional builder’s toolbox a few decades ago would include a variety of physical tools for any kind of job, explains Mr. Plowright. Nowadays, a smartphone is a crucial inclusion in that toolbox. Workers use it for base functions, such as making calls, through to using apps that can turn the device into a measuring or levelling tool.

Aeeris EWN has tapped into the potential of smartphone apps through its innovative Geographic Notification Information System (GNIS). The GNIS is a multi-channel, location-based early warning service, primarily used to warn people about severe weather and other geo-spatial hazards. It has the capability to instantly and simultaneously broadcast alerts and notifications, from information tracked by EWN, to groups and individuals. “[GNIS] is a really innovative piece of technology that we’ve been constantly developing for the last eight years – it’s the genesis of the business,” says Mr. Plowright.

Aeeris EWN has recently extended the GNIS’ capabilities and its app profile into the realm of on-site worker safety.

In August, they launched safe@work – a new app that aims to improve safety for workers, particularly those working remotely or out in the field across a variety of sectors, including construction, civil works and infrastructure.

Through the app, and using the GNIS mapping system, users can draw “alert polygons” to create an area in which individuals will receive tailored alerts and messages. In essence, if the safe@work app was implemented as a safety measure for a specific work area, a project manager could detail the exact parameters of the construction zone on the mapping system, which locates workers based on the location of their smartphone devices. They could then set up an alert that goes to each individual entering the zone, asking them to check in as part of safety checks, or when an emergency or other urgent notification is required.

The alert could be customised to tell individuals entering the site, highlighted by the polygon, that they are required to wear a hard hat and high-vis vest. Those receiving the alerts respond through biometric authentication, that is via thumbprint on the smartphone device screen. “Businesses can manage their workers much more effectively and at the same time keep them safe,” says Mr. Plowright. “For certain businesses they need this authentication to know a person is going to an area.”

He suggests that if a project had visiting council members, for instance, they could sign in on-site via the app. The appropriate project manager and individuals would immediately be notified of their whereabouts and could keep an eye on their location during the visit, making sure they don’t enter any particular risk zones. The same ideal applies to sub-contractors entering a construction site too. “Because businesses have a responsibility to keep their contractors safe as well, they really need to be able to talk to them too,” he adds.

Workers can use the safe@work app to upload information on incidents, including images, direct to the manager’s system, every upload of which is geo-located and time stamped. The app gives users a one-touch contact with designated individuals within the company, emergency services, a 24-hour GP helpline, and has a “find me” function that sends an SMS and email message, including a precise location, to their chosen contact.

Should a worker have an accident on-site, they could, for instance, hit the “find me” button and live-stream all the relevant information about the incident through to the appropriate individuals on-site. If the worker involved in the accident can’t action the app, a co-worker can easily get the appropriate information through at the push of a button. “Management really likes to know these things as soon as it happens, and this means they can respond rapidly,” says Mr. Plowright. “The capabilities of this are significant.”

While Mr. Plowright asserts that there may be hesitation in the acceptance and normalisation of these kinds of monitoring procedures, he is adamant that it’s all about the safety of workers. The system only monitors an individual’s location once they enter the designated polygon zone, and given the fact most workers want to take their own smartphone devices on-site, this was an important factor taken into account during the safe@work design stages. “It’s just about making sure businesses are a lot more understanding and flexible in the way they work,” he says.

As to the future, Mr. Plowright anticipates that the next three years in the realm of work safety technology – not just apps but wearables too – will be very exciting indeed.

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