Do you remember when the average person had no idea what PPE (personal protective equipment) were? Or when only specifically trained professionals wore the PPEs for on-the-job safety? That was before the pandemic hit. Since then, PPEs have become a part of daily life, they are now worn by people everywhere, and that is a critical distinction, but it’s more than facemasks. Modern PPEs are wearable technology and are being called smarter PPEs. They are designed to monitor wearers and their surroundings for hazards.
Wearable PPEs are becoming a larger part of the global discussion concerning workplace safety. Digital technology has been integrated into clothing, vests, shoes, etc. making these everyday devices smart PPEs. What’s making these PPEs smart is the connectivity brought about by the IIoT (industrial internet of things). What got me thinking about this subject has been a flood of press releases featuring IIoT-integrated smart PPEs hitting my inbox.
When I first encountered PPEs they were far from smart and weren’t connected to anything except me. Back in the day, PPEs were designed to protect your head from falling hardware, protect your eyes from flying debris, or protect your ears from loud noises, etc. They performed a job, but it required the user to be alert about what was needed. Somehow, I was talked into becoming OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) certified and be the engineering department’s hazmat engineer.
In those days, hazmat usually entailed running safety briefings on a worksite and checking MSDS (material safety data sheets). Occasionally I had to drag a lot of bulky test equipment to the worksite to determine if there was a hazard. Site monitoring was limited due to logistics. Most worksites were remote and there wasn’t enough monitoring equipment to go around, so road-trips were the norm. That is why these smarter PPEs are attracting everyone’s attention.
It’s mindboggling to think that IIoT-integrated wearables are connected anywhere and everywhere. The latest high-tech sensors, sophisticated monitors, and high-speed communications are being built into the clothing we wear (hardhats, jackets, vests, lapel pins, etc.). These wearables are smart PPEs that can monitor the environment, the wearer’s health, and mitigate the hazards in real-time.
We first explored smart PPEs back in March 2021 “Charging Ahead.” Smarter wearable PPE technologies were featured in that monthly column, and it received a lot of positive feedback. For details see “Smarter Than The Average Hardhat” in the March 2021 (https://tdworld.com/21153231) T&D World. With the passing of over a year, it seemed reasonable to revisit the topic and see what is happening with IIoT-integrated PPEs now.
Starting off with the most simple, smart gloves led the pack when it came to announcements. Gloves can contain NFC (near-field communication) chips to take advantage of swipe and 3D gesture technology. Technology also offers sensitive stimuli to the hands inside the glove. This kinesthetic and tactile feedback delivers what experts refer to as extended reality, which is really useful in heavy work-gloves.
WaveCell announced it has revamped the hardhat itself. This redesign protects the wearer from traumatic brain injury caused by slips, fails, and strikes to the head. WaveCell said, “The basic design of hardhats has not changed in over 50 years, until now. WaveCell is a spatial cellular structure that lines the inside of the hardhat and is made from a collapsible material that absorbs energy from a head impact in multiple, superior ways.”
Guardhat has taken the smart hardhat a step further according to a recent announcement. Their smarter hardhat has become a IIoT-integrated PPE monitoring platform for “real-time risk management.” Their platform monitors both environmental and internal worker conditions in real-time. Guardhat said, “The system connects a variety of wearable sensors and software into a system that helps prevent injury or even death from exposure to heat, gas, radiation, noise, over-exertion, or worker-specific health issues.”
Acumen Research and Consulting reports that the global electrical PPE market is expected to reach around US$ 21 billion by 2026. Strict regulations and worker awareness are driving this market. Interestingly, head, ear, eye, and face protection are leading the smart PPEs marketplace according to Fact.MR, a marketing research company, as workplace wearables become more accepted.
Wearable PPE systems are a trending topic when it comes to workplace digital technologies. IIoT technology has made the worker more aware of their surroundings and the surroundings more aware of the worker. I can’t wait to see where this is all going!