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The Future of Construction Safety? You're Wearing It


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Is construction actually ahead of the game?

It could be said the construction industry’s adoption of new technologies puts the rest of the workforce to shame. The supposedly old-school toolbelt crowd jumped right in when mobile tech and cloud computing proved useful tools on the jobsite, so it shouldn’t surprise anyone that some of the coolest new “wearables”–electronically-augmented clothing and accessories designed to improve construction worksite safety–are being designed expressly for the hard hat set.

About 20% of workplace deaths in the U.S. every year occur on the construction site–a grim statistic the industry has been at pains to improve.

The term Wearables is shorthand for WearableComputers, the original term for an array of work complementing devices designed to be worn on the person rather than carried in the hand or pocket. The term is a bit of a misnomer, since wearables include a number of different electronic gadgets, not all of which “process” or compute. Some of the wearables are sensors that monitor a worker’s vital signs and posture, while others improve workplace safety by adding illumination or warning of the presence of moving machinery. There are also wearables that add to a worker’s strength or balance by offering a sort of ergonomic bracing. In other words there are as many kinds of “wearables” as there are perceived shortfalls that need addressing in the working environment.

Some wearables have gone to market, some are in beta-testing phase, and still others are in the R & D pipeline. Do wearables really have a future on the construction job site, or is it much ado about nothing?Take a look at this short list of wearables and decide for yourself:

Halo Light

The Halo Light wearable solves a problem, and in grand style. The construction jobsite is an inherently hazardous work environment on a good day.

The fact is, 37% of construction work-zone fatalities occur at night, typically along poorly lit highway job sites.

The Halo Light banishes that darkness. This wearable solution is an LED-based luminescent ring that slips down onto the brim of a hard hat and throws out a brilliant 360° blast of LED light–276 lumens worth–bathing the entire work area in detail-revealing light.

Perhaps more importantly, Halo Light makes the wearer a light source, visible from as far away asa quarter mile. At a scant nine ounces (the small lithium-ion battery clips to the hip), the Halo Light is the illumination source you wear. Its omnidirectional radiance allows the worker in dimly lit or night time conditions to work in a light-saturated environment,and to be supremely visible, to both the highway driver approaching the job site, and to the colleague operating heavy equipment.

These twin elements of the Halo Light’s design function address the two pressing workplace safety needs that prompted the founders of Illumagear, (which makes the Halo Light), to begin the company in 2012.

Effort-Augmenting Exo-Skeleton

Readers of a certain age may remember the climactic scene in the film Aliens when astronaut Ripley puts on some futuristic heavy machinery suit to do battle with her space Beast nemesis. Well guess what? Ekso Bionics, a company that produces a weight-bearing“reciprocal-gait” exoskeleton for the medical industry, (stroke victims make particular use of the product), has produced an exo-solution that allows a construction worker to wield heavy power tools with comparative ease.

The company is presently developing a line of exo-wearables tailored to wielding specific heavy tools on the job site, using counterbalance. These are non-powered wearable structures that use counterweights to off set the loads being lifted. The rigors of construction work may be wearing unnaturally on the workforce. Designers are particularly focused on wearable exo-assistance where loads are being lifted to chest height or higher. The damage to shoulders and backs is notable.

The exoskeleton as an augmenting tool for help in hoisting toolboxes and pneumatic hammers, could be just the ticket for the construction worker worn down, not by the job per se, but by the hauling and lifting alone.

Wearable Motion and Muscle Activity Sensors

The way we move determines much, (and we’re not talking about the dance floor here). What if all the spontaneous, random motion that takes place in your workday could be measured? And then that data could be leveraged into conscious movement that works with, rather than against, the body’s natural architecture?

A handful of companies have got your back on this one; and your shoulders, and everything else you are inclined to wear out. Wearable and wireless motion sensors record data at approximately 200 units of data per second, offering a richly detailed picture of your movement patterns, and answering questions you might never have thought to ask.Questions about the relationship between your pelvis and your spine area during an average workday, for instance.

The attached sensors and the rich feedback they offer are a first step in the process of adopting habits of workplace movement that are healthier and less likely to lead to injury.

The Pursuit ofJob Site Safety

As these devices are more universally adopted, the economies of scale should also make the price points more palatable to the construction sector’s budget. A helmet, gloves, and a hernia-preventing truss are still standard issue on the job site. Add to these a 21st century array of warning systems, personal locators, and posture alerts, and you’ve gone a long way towards surrounding today’s construction worker with a cocoon of awareness. And isn’t situational awareness the number one goal in the pursuit of job site safety?

Sound like a good deal? Dive into this free eBook and find out which wearables have gone to market, which are still in beta, and how all of them could dramatically change the way you work every day. Download it here

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