Accidents (unintentional injuries) are the fourth leading cause of death in the U.S. According to the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA), 4,679 workers died on the job in 2014. OSHA mandates the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) on the work site, which includes face shields, safety glasses, hard hats, safety shoes, goggles, coveralls, gloves, vests, earplugs and respirators, based on the work environment. The next generation of PPE offers the means to monitor a worker’s vital signs, warn of oncoming traffic, display work instructions via augmented reality, and much more, thereby increasing safety, productivity and accuracy. Some of these garments are already on the market.
A recent ENR article (November 23, 2015) states, “…construction workers may find that common assets, such as hardhats, safety vests and even the tools they carry, are being infused with new capabilities.” The objective is that building technology into gear that the worker is already accustomed to wearing is easier than convincing a worker to add another item to his or her PPE repertoire.
Looking much like a traditional hardhat, the Daqri Smart Helmet features 360-degree navigation cameras and a 4D display that enables the wearer to view work instructions in the context of the job site. Using augmented reality (where images appear dynamically on surfaces in the surrounding environment), the retractable protective visor displays an overlay of information mapped to what the wearer is seeing. Virtual reality has also come a long way, enabling architects and engineers to view their 3D models through headsets and make necessary modifications.
The InZoneAlert safety vest, developed by Virginia Tech Professor Tom Martin and his graduate students, uses dedicated short-range communication (DSRC), the same wireless technology as new self-driving and semi-autonomous cars. Sensors within the vest communicate with this technology to warn the wearer and driver of potential collisions. The vest, which incorporates GPS tracking technology, may soon be able to warn of approaching vehicles and alert a worker who is entering a danger zone. A prototype of the InZoneAlert vest has performed with over 90% accuracy. Martin predicts that within five to 10 years, most cars on the road will be equipped with DSRC, and his vest will be ready to interact with them.
Tools that once required bulky external power may soon be driven by lightweight power packs. The Robotic Air Compressor, developed by Rise Robotics, uses cable-driven piston technology to power common pneumatic tools used in the industry. Ekso Bionics offers a lightweight powered harness that may one day be able to lift heavy loads, reducing many common on-the-job injuries. Arron Acosta, CEO of Rise Robotics, believes that, by 2018, materials-handling exosuits will be worn by contractors and builders to lift heavy loads such as concrete.
At HAKS, safety is a priority. We are following these advancements closely, and look forward to one day incorporating smart protective clothing into our safety culture.