Wearables extend safety and risk management to the edges of the organisation where hazardous work is performed, says Jon Arnold, VP of Sales, EMEA at RealWear Inc.

Occupational health and safety has always been a significant consideration for any employer, but particularly so within an industrial setting, where there is far more exposure to risk and hazards than your average workplace. In order to protect workers, many organisations are looking to technology to further reduce risk in the workplace and ensure that workers are as safe as possible in their jobs.

In an industrial setting like a construction site or offshore rig, this becomes even more concerning. Wearing the proper PPE is paramount, and when you’re adding an augmented reality (AR) device it becomes essential that your workers are trained and that the proper device is chosen to maintain full situational awareness allowing for the compliant PPE.

According to a recent Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) study, 70.9% of hand and arm injuries could have been prevented with personal protective equipment (PPE), specifically safety gloves.

With a number of innovative technologies already available to employers, and with many new technological developments on the horizon well beyond touch screens, there has never been a better time for organisations to bolster their operational safety and risk management. With that in mind, ‘purpose-built’ wearable computing offers industry the next opportunity to use cutting-edge technology to step-change the way organisations protect people and assets, improve workforce capability and operational efficiency, while optimising safety.

Wearable technology offers a number of benefits in an industrial work setting, including the ability to investigate and learn from incidents, in real-time, as well as the ability to conduct health, safety and environmental field audits and assurance activities hands-free.

Features such as these have become more important since the start of the pandemic, where the need for staff to be socially distant is important. All of this is achieved through the use of audio and visual technology, which provides a ‘fly on the wall’ vision to a site which can be shared with remote colleagues. A further benefit, is the technology’s ability to generate real-time reports combined with the ability to record work tasks that can be used for future training development, which can be recorded directly to a device.

For those not familiar with wearables, the technology can be incorporated into items that can be comfortably worn on a person, in essence effectively integrating technology into everyday work life. It’s of particular interest to industrial applications, as operational efficiency and safety can be delivered through the hands-free and voice-activated technology that wearables provide.

Combined, these two technologies deliver the key benefit of employees being able to maintain situational awareness when working, even while using gloves if the device is voice-enabled. For instance, a wearable


headset could be clipped on to a worker’s hard hat and operated completely hands-free, as opposed to using a tablet computer; not only does a tablet take a worker’s eyes off the job and obstruct their wider surroundings, but a tablet needs to be operated by hand, which invites its own risks and dangers.

There has been an uptake in the adoption of enterprise wearables following advancements in speech and voice recognition technology, which mean that wearables can be operated safely in extremely noisy industrial settings; without those advancements, the technology would simply be ineffective and its benefits negated.

Like any new technology, there are of course a few challenges to consider. Companies need to allow time for change to how users work to accommodate the technology in their daily operations, and for any post-deployment set up. That said, global companies are taking it seriously, including Mars, Vestas, Total, Colgate-Palmolive, Honeywell and others.

Discovering the best use cases for the technology is empowering, and important too, when in the early adopter phase. From our own experiences, we are seeing dozens of use cases across a multitude of settings and industries, including manufacturers, the automotive industry, healthcare and construction to name a few. Use cases include remote audits, inspections, troubleshooting, and the ability to reduce first-time fix rates to 30 minutes versus days or even weeks.

In conclusion, wearables extend safety and risk management to the edges of the organisation where hazardous work is performed. Hands-free, voice-activated, wearable technology enables real- time collaboration, investigation, extended learning, emergency response and a potential for step-change improvements in personal and process safety.

With digital transformation taking place across industry, providing employees with cutting edge technology lies at the heart of remaining agile and competitive. Wearables are one technology that organisations need to consider in order to bolster health and safety in the workplace, wherever that may be.

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