Health and safety innovation: wearable tech changing hearts and minds
Construction workers demonstrate the On Guard proximity devices at the Southmead Hospital site in Bristol, England on April 10 2015. Photo by Jim Ross
By Gary Escott, director of OnGrade
We’ve all heard about the coming boom of wearable tech, though how useful much of it will be is as yet unknown. The world of health and safety, however, is successfully integrating wearable tech into site safety procedures and the innovation is proving popular.
Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) uses tiny electronic chips to transfer information from a transponder to a receptor. On dangerous building sites, SiteZone’s wearable RFID chips are saving lives by warning pedestrians and machinery drivers of each others’ presence.
Workers are becoming inherently more aware of the risks they encounter every day and are adapting their behaviour to protect themselves from potentially dangerous situations.
The new sensor by OnGrade at the Powerday station. Photo by Jim Ross
Don’t Burst the Bubble
One useful analogy for how the system works is to imagine a bubble around a piece of heavy plant or vehicle. The bubble is the danger zone that pedestrians should avoid to prevent accidental collision. Pedestrians wear a small RFID transponder on their hard hat or sleeve, and a small unit is fitted to the vehicle.
If a pedestrian enters the ‘bubble’ of the vehicle, both he and the driver receive a warning, through vibration, audio and visual alerts. This two-way alarm is important since it is the responsibility of both the driver and the pedestrian to avoid a collision.
Importantly, if a pedestrian does breach a safety zone, SiteZone’s proximity warning system automatically logs the incident. OnGrade have also now launched its OverSite product which transfers all logged data to a secure website so that managers can identify repeat offenders and target safety training.
The “Don’t Burst the Bubble” message also provides an easily memorable visual reminder to workers not to breach the danger zone of any vehicle or heavy plant, useful in staff inductions and training programmes.
Construction workers demonstrate the On Guard proximity devices at the Southmead Hospital site in Bristol, England on April 10 2015.
Photo by Jim Ross
The SiteZone Proximity Warning System from OnGrade is proving extremely popular with some of the biggest names in construction, waste management and civil engineering. Carillion, for example, uses the system extensively across a large number of its UK sites, recognising how effective it is.
Powerday, which owns and operate the largest and most efficient recycling facility in southern England is also using the system. Health and Safety Manager Andre Rayson said: “Powerday are continuously looking for ways to improve the Health & Safety in all our yards. The need to segregate moving vehicles and plant from pedestrians or workers is essential but not always easy or in fact possible.
“SiteZone has recently provided Powerday with the answer, a workable method of making everyone aware of what’s going on around them and reducing the likelihood of any contact between a vehicle and person. It’s already proved to be very effective and clients and visitors to our yard have already introduced it to their workplaces.”
Unlike cameras SiteZone can “see around corners”, through dust and smoke, and in the dark. Some of the latest new features are proving particularly valuable for busy sites, such as SiteZone Instant, which can be fitted swiftly to any vehicle arriving on site. Ideal for delivery vehicles, temporarily hired plant or even waste trucks arriving at a landfill, SiteZone Instant enables every driver to be protected from accidental collisions.
As Andrew Sharman pointed out in his recent article for Safety and Health Practitioner, “Are there any truly innovative, leading-edge solutions that can revitalise employee motivation and interest in workplace safety?”
With the optional telemetry add-on to SiteZone, Key Performance Indicators for health and safety are suddenly more tangible, since managers can see the opportunities they have to motivate the workforce to not burst that bubble.
Sites can be compared with one another, and league tables add to the positive motivation that workforces feel from the system.
Essentially a very high tech piece of PPE, the Proximity Warning System is like a last form of defence. Of course, site traffic plans and fencing will always be the first step in ensuring worker safety, but where pedestrians and vehicles need to work closely with one another, a tiny RFID chip really could save someone’s life.
OnGrade has been working in close consultation with some of its largest clients to develop and refine the system, making it even more practical as a form of self-defence for both drivers and pedestrians.
The Zone Selector, for example, enables users to instantly switch between two preset ranges – ideal for variable tasks or environments; and the BucketZone creates a separate detection zone around the working equipment of the machine, useful for excavators and shovels.
As the potential of RFID technology is increasingly recognised, more and more companies are adding it to their health and safety toolkit. By increasing awareness of near misses, workers are actually starting to change their behaviour, being more alert and more risk averse. In the end, that is the prize outcome of SiteZone – greater awareness, and improved safety.
Gary Escott is director of OnGrade
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