With the help of sensors and near-field communication, PPE is entering a new era.
Slowly but surely, the construction industry is going digital. For example, more and more construction equipment is networked, meaning it can share information with computers as part of the Internet of Things. On a smaller scale, thanks to the ability to add sensors and wireless connectivity just about anywhere, personal protective equipment (PPE) is making it easier for workers to get alerts, communicate with each other and otherwise stay safe.
Here are three devices that serve as “smart” PPE or work with PPE to make it smarter.
Heads up, worker!
Heads Up offers a customizable alert and communication system centered on a Bluetooth-connected LED indicator that can be mounted on safety glasses or face protection. An embedded sensor measures decibel levels. A light in the wearer’s peripheral vision flashes green if the worker is approaching an environment that poses a noise hazard. (Sensors that can detect other hazards are coming.) The light flashes red to indicate an evacuation of the site.
Wearers can initiate two-way communication using the Heads Up smartphone app. A blue light on the indicator tells users they have a call or text from someone on site.
Hearing voices but not noise
Loud noises can permanently damage hearing, so hearing protection is a must. But it’s hard to communicate with other works while wearing ear muffs.
Enter the smart headset from Sensear. It blocks noise while letting workers talk to each other via two-way radio or cell phone (it’s Bluetooth-enabled). For workers who prefer ear plugs, Sensear's smartPlug provides the same protection and communication options as the headset. An in-ear microphone allows users to hear speech.
Boots that sense and charge
Not yet on the market, the SmartBoot from startup SolePower is sensor ready. Customers can insert sensors that track worker whereabouts, monitor for dangerous conditions like chemical or gas leaks, count steps and more. A motion sensor could sense falls. If embedded with wifi, the boots could provide cloud access. Better still, the boots power the sensors — as well as lights on the sole and even other devices — through a removable insert that harvests kinetic energy from heel strikes. According to the company, the insert can generate enough energy to power an hour’s worth of talk time on an iPhone after two hours of walking.
Kim Slowey is a writer who has been active in the construction industry for 25 years and is licensed as a certified general contractor in Florida. She received her BA in Mass Communications/Journalism from the University of South Florida and has experience in both commercial and residential construction.