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Personal Electronics Becoming Wearable PPEs

Dec. 1, 2022
For the power grid, 5G opened a lot of opportunities for asset management systems, but personal electronics and wearable personal protective equipment (PPE) also benefitted.

December is finally here, and with it are all kinds of consumer electronics on display for holiday purchasing. Discounts abound and the shelves are well stocked. It’s been an amazing year for digital technologies, but it’s the smartphones and smartwatches that are causing a stir. These devices are always at the top of everyone’s wish list, but this year there’s a difference.

As wireless communications technologies moved into the 5G arena, the flow of real-time data to the cloud has improved. For the power grid, 5G opened a lot of opportunities for asset management systems, but personal electronics and wearable personal protective equipment (PPE) also benefitted.

New Frontier

For those working remotely, the move to 5G has improved data transfers and the speed of communications, and personal electronics are experiencing new PPE possibilities. Normally we don’t think of smartphones or smartwatches as being a wearable PPE device, but they are. Recently my doctor suggested I should monitor my heart and blood pressure as I age. Much as I hate to admit it, age is creeping up on me and this is probably a reasonable suggestion.

That suggestion got me digging into the health diagnostic capabilities of smartphone/smartwatch applications. I found these combos offer vast improvements over previous health diagnostics. They can do things that were unthinkable a few short years ago. More importantly, both Android and iOS (Apple) smart devices offer a plethora of monitoring capabilities. And they are being utilized in the workplace too. Let’s look deeper.

I found that when my 5G smartphone is teamed up with a compatible smartwatch, the combo can monitor pulse rates, blood pressure, and even perform EKGs (electrocardiograms). This is what I was looking for, but I found more functionality just as important. The duo can give the GPS location of the wearer and tell if they have fallen and have stopped moving. These features were developed for seniors living alone, but it doesn’t take much to adapt them as PPEs for lone worker protection.  

Smarter PPEs

Remember, old-school wearable PPEs were limited when they first came on the scene — hardhats, safety glasses, earplugs, and steel-toe work boots. Thankfully that isn’t the case today. Digital technology, miniaturization and improved sensors have really advanced the field of wearable PPEs to the point where they do more than simply protect. Modern wearable PPEs are proactive. They monitor the workplace environment as well as the wearer. It’s considered a “new frontier” for wearable PPEs.

I started searching for websites listing what kind of personal protective apps were available for smartphones. It turns out there are a lot of apps available under the worker protection category, but they are mostly safety-oriented. They show first aid techniques, provide safety checklists, or keep track of traditional PPE devices. They’re all good, but not what I was looking for.

Finally I ran into a ladder safety app that used visual and audio signals to check safe ladder angles. Then I hit some lists of noise monitoring apps that had been approved by NIOSH. I finally hit paydirt with some sites focused on the best lone worker apps. These apps utilize the monitors and sensors built into smartphones and smartwatches, and they’re starting to gain a following in the workplace.

The websites also listed the best features the apps should have. It seems the best lone worker apps work in the background letting the smartphone/smartwatch’s other functions and features be available. They are also easy on the device’s battery life and are data efficient, which is why 5G is important. They give the worker’s real-time location and have fall notification abilities. They also prompt the worker when to check in with their dispatchers.

Buried amid all the features the websites considered important was one that I thought should haven been at the top of the list. It’s a new emergency feature that has been added to the iPhone 14. It’s called emergency satellite SOS text messaging. When you are in a really remote area, like the average substation, there is a good possibility there is no cellular coverage. In the case of an emergency, this device can be switched to the SOS text messaging feature.

If the iPhone 14 has this feature, then Android’s equivalent can’t be far behind it. What other innovations are in store for wearable PPEs via the smartphone/smartwatch apps we can only guess. I think we are going to see more focus on this area!

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