Workplace accidents, which add up to close to 5,000 deaths a year in the US, may be minimized with more advanced and accurate tracking systems. A Pittsburgh-based startup has created a bold safety work boot said to be the first “self-charging, industrial wearable”.
You can’t actually improve efficiency if you don’t measure.
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the construction industry has the most workplace-related accidents per year. The cases were often caused by falls, electrocution, getting struck by an object, or caught in between heavy objects. Eliminating these threats would save about 600 workers per year.
SolePower: Wearable Tech That Can Save Lives
SolePower is an unplugged technology that tracks where workers are and what they are doing – for safety purposes only. Apart from construction, the tracker can be used by workers in the building as well as oil and gas sectors. However, it is projected to hugely benefit construction workers, since the industry is said to be one of the least digitized sectors.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette cited a study from the McKinsey Global Institute which predicted a boom in construction until 2030. It said there will be a $57 trillion investment in infrastructure needed to keep with up with global GDP growth. This would require improved productivity and additional safety measures to keep workers safe at building sites.
SolePower is a pair of work boots with a charger that utilizes kinetic energy produced when the worker walks. Inside, the boots are equipped with sensors for temperature detection, as well as inertial measurement units which track location and activity, along with GPS and W-Fi.
“It’s challenging to track workflow on job sites, so inefficiencies can go unnoticed. We need to know who is on the site and where they are at any given time … you can’t actually improve efficiency if you don’t measure,” SolePower’s Commercial Director, Cindy Kerr, was quoted in the report.
Boots That Never Run Out of Juice
The innovative footwear has different tricks built into them, but the biggest advantage is never running out of battery power. Unlike other trackers and systems used in construction sites, SolePower is self-charging. This is ideal in emergency situations like when a worker has fallen and is unable to call for help. The tracker in his shoes can ping his location even after several hours.
Triax Technologies, a safety and communications company in Norwalk, Connecticut, also has its own safety device. Their safety device is called spot-r and can be fastened onto a belt since it’s the size of a pack of gum. It was meant to track slips and falls and is also equipped with a button that workers can press during an incident. While this is considered a huge development, spot-r’s limitation is that it runs on a tiny battery that must be replaced once a year.
Triax’s President Chad Hollingsworth underscored the need for bold innovations to promote workplace safety. He said manual tracking is ineffective since most job sites cannot monitor the number of workers at a site at any given time or where they are working.
Is Wearable Tech a Privacy Violation?
Wearable sensors and trackers could do a lot of good in the workplace. However, there has been resistance to its widespread adaptation because some groups feel that this infringes on the worker’s right to privacy.
Helen Hardy, CEO, and co-founder Donny Beaver said workers were hesitant to wear Go Pro-outfitted helmets which also tracked air quality in gas fields. While the move was meant to keep workers from inhaling silica dust, the project did not take off because the workers were not comfortable with the idea that they were being watched all the time.
While the advancements are meant for workers’ safety and protection at the job sites, it may be a good idea to acclimatize them to the technology. Show them what it does and how it could benefit them instead of forcing it upon them and adaptation may be much easier.
Construction sites are dangerous, and these devices could well lead to safer conditions for all workers. It is a big breakthrough and in time workers may realize that safety and protection are more important than privacy on the worksite.