Can wearables truly help New Zealanders to work safer?

There are a growing number of industries already investigating wearables as a way to make them ‘Work Safer’.

This year’s C-Prize aims to accelerate the development of wearable technologies, and spark creative, innovative, and novel ideas for new technology that can enhance human performance and wellbeing. We’re looking for ideas that fit under our three themes: Live Healthier, Work Safer and Play Smarter.

For this post, we want to focus on Theme #2: Work Safer.

No matter your industry, work safety should be a priority for everyone in New Zealand. In some work situations, unexpected risks can require us to act fast and make quick, clear decisions to prevent injury or harm. And we believe that wearable technologies can help us to do just that…. but don’t just take our word for it. Here are the thoughts of two of the leading voices of workplace safety in NZ, as well as a run-down of some of the wearable solutions being trialled elsewhere.

“We use wearables for training purposes. The big thing for these technologies is to help our servicemen and women to be the best they can be, because when they are deployed into the field, they must be really ready for what they’ve got to do. For top sports teams, there’s second place. For us, second place could mean a bullet, so it’s just not an option.”
-Major Jacques Rousseau, New Zealand Army


“I believe that wearable technology will extend our knowledge of what our body is telling us, from hydration levels, exertion and overall health impacts that will be able to be identified and remedied in more real time. If we could enhance wearables to extract this real time and download to our devices, that is the interface we would see having a large benefit to our workforce health.”
-Greg Lazzaro, Global Health, Safety, Resilience & Risk Director at Fonterra

There are a growing number of industries who are already investigating wearables as a way to make them ‘Work Safer’. Let’s look at just a few examples ….

‘Fitbits of the farm’ may be a step closer, thanks to work from several start-up companies – some of which focus on farm animals. US company Quantified Ag is testing an ear-tag that monitors biometric in cattle, and alerts the farmer on their phone (and via an LED) if anything falls outside of the usual range. Another company, VitalHerd, are developing “e-pills” that are swallowed and can measure things like heart rate, respiration rate, stomach acidity and hormone levels via a cows’ stomach.

But here at the C-Prize, we’re really interested in wearables for humans, and there’s lots going on in that sector too! The University of Nebraska are using fitness trackers to design better manure forks for female farmers – by analysing the user’s heart rate, they can determine which design is easiest and safest to use. US company AgVoice (formerly TekWear) developed a ‘wearable dashboard system’ that allows farmers to remotely monitor animals, scout for crops in fields, and obtain machinery support. They’re soon to launch a mobile voice-interaction service that interacts with their hardware to make documentation easy to collect ‘on the go’.

Digitising information is a big motivator for those working in the emergency services too – a growing number of police officers in London now have wearable cameras integrated into their uniforms, and use voice recordings to file reports. And by integrating 4G data services, control rooms can get access to real-time video from those on the ground, providing vital information in emergency situations. Recent research from Massey University focused on the possible use of wearable tech for fighting wildfires. They instrumented two fighters with microphones, miniature video cameras, heart rate monitors and GPS units, to record their actions and location at real wildfire events. Their results show not only that useful data can be successfully obtained under extreme work conditions, but also that their system could be worn comfortably, and without compromising fire fighter safety.

On the construction site, too, wearables are becoming more common. Internet-enabled smart glasses that relay information, in real-time, from the field to those off-site are already improving training. But engineering companies like Bechtel are also attempting to take this tech further – their UK arm are developing headsets that allow virtual features to be laid over a physical, real-word environments. The DAQRI smart-helmet combines the traditional safety helmet with that of a heads-up display, so that workers can have easy access to their instructions without referring to additional documentation. An advanced sensing band, launched in 2016, includes location tracking, sensors for pulse rate, temperature, location, as well as environmental sensors for air temperature and humidity. For outdoor workers, or those who operate heavy machinery, this system could save lives. Wellington-based company, Hunter Safety Lab, developed their smart-clothing to make hunting safer. Their rifle attachment beeps and flashes if the rifle is aimed at a person wearing a vest or cap with an embedded sensor.

For those working in the transportation sector, there’s Fujitsu’s FEELythm – a wearable sensor that detects when drivers are drowsy, based on their pulse. When changes are detected, it sends an alert to the driver to wake them, as well as to the fleet manager, so as they can monitor the health of their drivers. And medical staff in a Finnish hospital are trialling a location badge that can alert a central control system if the wearer has fallen down – it uses a GPS tracker and an accelerometer to provide highly accurate location data, whether the wearer is outside or inside a building.

Do you have an idea for a wearable that could transform your workplace? If so, come along to one of our seminars this week, and then get your entry in for this year’s C-Prize (entries close on 2nd July)