Work Safety

Worker Safety is Governed by Laws and Regulations that are Industry and Application-Specific

15 Min
May 25, 2024
Work Safety Use Case

What to Expect?

Workplace safety and labor safety are reaching new heights with the introduction of wireless IoT technologies. Imagine a working world where workers, work equipment, and assets are connected.

A wearable solution based on BluFi, BLE, and RTLS technology is being used in a hospital to improve the workplace safety for 7,000 staff members. RFID, RTLS, and UWB solutions are being used in warehouses to prevent forklift collisions. RFID access control solutions ensure only authorized employees access dangerous areas.

1. Status Quo

What is Workplace Safety?

Workplace safety, also referred to as labor safety or occupational safety, is a top priority in every workplace. It refers to the implementation of policies, procedures, and measures designed to ensure the health and safety of employees in the workplace. Risk assessment determines the dangers and hazards in each workplace environment. But how has the modern workplace become safer? How is workplace safety being ensured in various evolving industry landscapes?

The answer: Automation and digitalization in companies. The Internet of Things (IoT) and robotics play an important role here. In order to digitalize occupational safety, tools and methods like wearables, environmental sensors, and location tracking and geo-fencing are commonly used. The following sections explain how automation and digitalization contribute to work health and safety (wh&s) in different industries.

Workplace Safety in Industrial Environments

In Industry 4.0 and manufacturing, IoT sensors embedded in machinery enable continous condition monitoring and predictive maintenance (PdM Maintenance). Predictive maintenance systems use the data captured by these sensors to predict when a machine is likely to fail. This enables proactive maintenance to prevent unexpected breakdowns and machine failures that could result in accidents. Additionally, collaborative robots (cobots) are designed to work alongside human workers. Cobots can take over dangerous tasks such as heavy lifting, welding, and also operate in hazardous environments.

Smart personal protective equipment (PPE) like helmets, ear plugs, protective eyewear, and clothing have integrated electronic components such as sensors, RF modules, and data carriers to enhance the protection of workers. This allows for applications in geo-fencing and geo-positioning, for example. Workers equipped with smart PPEs can be monitored to ensure that they stay in safe zones. By monitoring and measuring the body temperature of workers, smart wearables can also send alerts to remind workers to hydrate themselves in high-temperature environments. Studies suggest that smart glasses with augmented reality (AR) also contribute to workplace safety and health.

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, there have safety measures were heightened in many workplaces. Insight Sip, a French manufacturer and designer of ultra-miniaturized electronic components developed the solution “Security Bubble Covid-19” to ensure compliance with social distancing. This solution makes use of Near-Field Communication (NFC), BLE and Ultra-Wide-Band (UWB) technologies. PPEs are equipped with tags that are programmed to trigger alarms in case they get too close with other tags. This smart PPE solution can be used in a variety of different workplaces, and is an example of digitalization in occupational safety. Workplaces like factories, warehouses, construction sites, offices, restaurants, supermarkets, shops, schools, universities, and museums can benefit from this solution.

NFC technology and Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) are often used as solutions for access control to ensure that only authorized employees can enter dangerous areas.

Workplace Safety in the Construction Industry

IoT technologies like GPS and LoRaWAN trackers and sensors are used for geo-fencing and tracking on construction sites. These trackers with positioning technologies prevent vehicle collisions and are also used to ensure that employees stay in safe zones.

As explained in the section above, smart PPEs can also be used in construction sites. These include smart helmets, boots, and glasses, for example.

Drones equipped with cameras are used for inspection purposes. These drones are used for inspection in dangerous or hard-to-reach locations, such as roads, skyscrapers, bridges.

Less common are robotic exoskeletons such as power gloves, back support, arm and shoulder supports, and whole-body suits that are designed to help workers lift heavy loads in construction sites.

Workplace Safety in Healthcare

As part of digitalization in healthcare, staff duress solutions based on Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) and Real Time Locating Systems (RTLS) improve the safety of healthcare workers in emergency situations. Smart PPEs can be used to ensure that social distancing regulations are complied with in hospitals and healthcare facilities. Service robots are used to support healthcare workers in lifting patients. This eliminates the risk of injury for both the patients, and the worker.

Workplace Safety in Logistics

Automation plays a big role in increasing worker safety in logistics and transportation. This is part of digitalization in logistics. In modern high-speed and high-pressure logistics environments, orders must be processed, prepared, and shipped as quickly as possible. Forklifts and workers race throughout warehouses and facilities at risk of physical strain and collisions. The use of autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) is a solution that automates the warehouse. AMRs can handle transport tasks and heavy lifting that may cause human injuries. Indoor navigation systems based on RTLS, RFID, and BLE, for example, can be used to prevent forklift collisions.

Workplace Safety in Public Spaces

IoT technologies also contribute to ensuring workplace safety in public spaces like offices, school, and universities.

Environmental sensors can be placed throughout buildings and facilities to monitor parameters such as water, temperature, and air quality. IoT-based indoor monitoring systems notify employees when hazardous substances are detected.

Connected surveillance cameras and smart locks enhance physical security in office buildings. Occupancy sensors and smart ID systems based on RFID or NFC ensure that only authorized personnel can access certain areas. This prevents unauthorized entry and potential security breaches.

In universities and schools, occupational safety systems like advanced surveillance systems, smart access control, and emergency notification systems work in tandem to ensure the safety of both students and staff. In case of emergencies, IoT-enabled notification systems can quickly disseminate alerts and instructions across the campus via connected devices, ensuring timely and coordinated responses.

Laws and Regulations for Occupational Safety

Occupational safety is part of labor rights, and is governed by a range of occupational safety laws and regulations designed to protect workers from hazards and ensure a safe working environment. By law, employers need to provide workplace-related training and instruction on a regular basis. This often happens annually. This is part of Section 12 of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, for example. In Germany, each state has its own occupational health and safety supervisory authority that is responsible for a specific area. Some of the key laws and regulations issued by workplace safety authorities or are listed below.

Examples from the United States are the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act) of 1970, and the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act (MSH Act) of 1977. The goal of the OSH Act is to ensure safe and healthy working conditions for men and women. It sets out specific standards for various industries, including construction, maritime, and industry, for example. The MSH Act regulates safety and health in the mining industry to prevent disasters, hazardous conditions, and promote safe working practices.

In the European Union (EU), examples include the Framework Directive 89/391/EEC and the REACH Regulation (EC) No 1907/2006. The Directive 89/391/EEC involves the introduction of measures that encourage the improvement of worker health and safety. The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work describes this as a “Framework Directive” for occupational safety and health (OSH). The regulation (EC) No 1907/2006 concerns the Registration, Evaluation, Authorization, and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH). This regulation was put into place to ensure that workers and the environment are protected from hazardous substances. Other examples include the Act on the Protection of Young People at Work, the Ordinance on the Protection of Children at Work, the Ordinance on Preventive Occupational Health Care, and the Ordinance on the Use of Personal Protective Equipment.

The Supply Chain Diligence Obligations Act, known in German as the “Lieferkettensorgfaltspflichtengesetz (LkSG)”, is a German law with the goal of protecting and promoting human rights and environmental standards along global supply chains. It is also known as the Supply Chain Act, and includes protection against child labor, the protection of the environment, and the right to fair wages.

Under the Product Safety Act (Produktsicherheitsgesetz), the product design must meet various safety requirements to be eligible for sale in Germany. This applies to products used by consumers, as well as to products used by employees in the workplace. This law promotes the health protection of workers.

Wireless IoT Technologies and Worker Safety

  • Sensor Technology

    Environmental sensors are used to detect hazardous substances in the air and in water.

  • Bluetooth LE

    Bluetooth Low Energy (Bluetooth LE) is a positioning technology and can be used in combination with RTLS for staff duress and safety in hospitals.

  • LPWAN

    Low Power Wide Area Networks (LPWAN) like LoRaWAN are used for geo-fencing and outdoor tracking to ensure worker safety on construction sites.

  • NFC

    Near-Field Communication (NFC) technology is used as an access control solution to prevent unauthorized access.

  • RTLS

    Real-Time Locating Systems (RTLS) are used to locate staff indoors in case of emergencies.

IoT Products Used for Worker Safety

One of the most widely used IoT products for workplace safety is environmental sensors. These sensors are equipped with wireless capabilities to monitor air quality, temperature, humidity, and the presence of hazardous gases. They are typically installed throughout workplaces such as factories, warehouses, and office buildings.

Wearable IoT devices are another important component in workplace safety. These devices, which can be worn as wristbands, smart helmets, or vests, monitor the health and well-being of employees in real-time.

Wireless IoT-enabled smart cameras and surveillance systems are use to maintain security and safety in workplaces. These systems utilize advanced technologies such as facial recognition, motion detection, and real-time video analytics to monitor workplace activities continuously.

RFID and NFC-based access control systems involve RFID or NFC employee badges or ID cards and the respective RFID or NFC readers. An RTLS infrastructure consisting of tags, readers, sensors, location software, network infrastructure, and data storage systems can be set up indoors for the real-time localization of employees, assets, and equipment like forklifts. Other IoT hardware used to ensure workplace safety include UWB tags and sensors, BLE tags and beacons, and GPS trackers.

Complementing the hardware, are various industry and application-specific IoT software solutions are used to enhance workplace safety. These platforms aggregate data from multiple IoT devices, providing a comprehensive view of the workplace environment.

Facts & Figures

Workplace safety is a top of great importance. According to the world’s largest corporate sustainability initiative “United Nations Global Compact”, occupational accidents and work-related diseases are the cause of death for approximately 2.78 million workers worldwide annually. 374 million workers fall victims to non-fatal occupational accidents yearly. According to a report from the market research platform “Gitnux”, 60 percent of workers prioritize health and safety policies, as opposed to higher salaries.

2. In Practice

Successful Examples of IoT for Workplace Safety

This section contains real-world examples of how IoT technologies are used to ensure workplace safety in different industries. These examples show how digitalization in healthcare, digitalization in logistics, and digitization in traffic and transportation have made an impact in worker safety.

Worker Safety at Mayo Clinic

Mayo Clinic has deployed a wearable solution based on BluFi, BLE, and RTLS technology for worker safety. 7,000 staff members have badges with an integrated BLE beacon that is able to communicate with the RTLS infrastructure of the hospital. Pushing the button on the badge activates an emergency signal that is captured by BluFI BLE antennas. Data is transmitted to HID’s Bluzone Cloud. The hospital security team is then notified and deployed. 84 percent of staff members at the hospital feel safe at work.

Location Aware Healthcare at the Mayo Clinic
Mayo Clinic Launches Staff Duress Solution for 7,000 Employees

“We rolled out the solution to 7,000 staff members. We activated their badges and did some surveys to assess safety. What we found is that approximately 84 percent of staff feel that they are somewhat safe at work. Through this intervention, there was an increased awareness around areas or situations where they are not safe. Associated with that, there is the ability to generate immediate real-time support to diffuse the situation and to increase the incident reports that accompany this. We had 167 panic activations over our study period and we continue to collect that data set. We reduced our false alarm rate from 32 percent to 11 percent.”

Derick D. Jones

Emergency Medicine Physician Board Certified in Clinical Informatics and Chair in RFID Technology at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, Mayo Clinic

Logo Mayo Clinic

Workplace Safety by Kathrein Solutions

An RTLS and RFID-based solution can be used in warehouses to track and localize forklifts in real time. This results in increased workplace safety. The K-RTLS system from Kathrein Solutions can be used to created a HeadMap. Here, the movement history and traffic of forklifts is recorded and forklift hotspots are identified. Based on captured data, the max. speed of forklifts can be automatically reduced in these hotspots to prevent collisions. Forklifts can also be re-routed.

What is the best method for location-identifying forklifts? Interview with Michael Kaiser, Kathrein Solutions
What is the Best Method for Location-Identifying Forklifts?

“Active tracking is possible for forklifts and people. When a forklift meets a forklift or when a forklift meets a person, the speed can in turn be slowed down or the warning horn of the forklift can be triggered remotely. For these solutions, Kathrein supplies the fundamental HW/SW components to partners, who will use them to offer the described complete solutions for forklifts with the comprehensive safety features.”

Michael Kaiser

Director Product Management & Innovations, KATHREIN Solutions

Logo Kathrein Solutions

Workplace Safety at NMBS/SNCB

An RFID system from Turck is being used by the Belgian railroad company NMBS/SNCB to control access to rooms where 3,000 volt tests are carried out. These areas are dangerous and only authorized personnel may enter, in order to ensure workplace safety. Each entrance door and the control desks of the laboratory are equipped with an RFID reader. Only operators or employees with an RFID badge are granted access. The RFID readers check who is logging in.

Belgian Railways relies on RFID Access Control Solution by Turck in High Voltage Areas
Belgian Railways Uses RFID System to Secure High-Voltage Tests

“The risks of a 3,000V installation should not be underestimated. Even when the power is off, there can still be charge in coils and capacitors. That’s why the work must always be done systematically, in accordance with established procedures, and by people who are aware of the risks.”

Kristof Honee

Head of electronic repair workshop NMBS Mechelen, NMBS/SNCB

Logo NMBS/SNCB
3. Panorama

What is the Future of Workplace Safety with IoT?

The future of workplace and worker safety involves the further development of artificial intelligence (AI), IoT, robotics, and big data solutions. A modern workplace is all about predicting and preventing incidents and accidents, rather than responding to them.

IoT technologies are being increasingly used across various industries. From environmental sensors, to real-time localization applications. Big data is integral to advancing workplace safety by enabling the comprehensive analysis of safety-related information. Companies can collect and analyze large datasets from various sources, including IoT devices, safety reports, and health records. This is used to identify trends and patterns that indicate potential safety risks. AI is also becoming more popular across various industries. AI and predictive analytics models use this data to forecast future incidents, allowing organizations to implement proactive measures to prevent accidents.

An increasing number of workplaces are deploying robots. These robots are becoming more sophisticated. Modern robots are no longer stationary, but are able to move and work alongside human workers. These robots are equipped with advanced sensors and AI capabilities to detect human presence and avoid collisions, ensuring a safer working environment. Robotic exoskeletons are also in development.

Although modern technologies are increasingly being used to automate the workplace and help promote workplace safety, they are not entirely replacing human workers. These technologies should rather be seen as tools that help companies make better judgments, and improve safety.

Advantages of Wireless IoT for Workplace Safety

The main advantage of wireless IoT for workplace safety involves real-time data and actions. With real-time data reports, IoT solutions enable quicker decision-making and responsiveness to emergencies or accidents. As explained in the previous section, modern workplaces are shifting from reactive to proactive safety measures. IoT technologies also enable companies to track and locate employees in real-time. This ensures that employees stay in safe zones. The workplace environment can be monitored in real-time, to ensure that hazards are detected immediately.

These examples show the advantages of real-time data in enabling a safer workplace environment.

Advantages of Wireless IoT

  • Real-time data collection
  • Real-time incident reports
  • Automation of dangerous tasks
  • Quicker decision-making
  • Proactive safety measures

The Challenges of IoT for Workplace Safety

As with all applications that use IoT devices, data security and privacy is one of the main concerns. IoT devices used for workplace safety collect sensitive and confidential data. IoT systems should be equipped with robust security measures and protocols to prevent data leakage and breaches. Companies must also ensure that they do not violate worker privacy rights.

The costs for the installation, configuration, deployment, and maintenance of IoT devices in the workplace can be expensive. This is one of the main reasons why companies are holding back on IoT adoption.

Another challenge is the interoperability and integration of various IoT devices and systems within an existing infrastructure. Many IoT devices come from different manufacturers and use different communication protocols, making it difficult to create a cohesive system where all devices can seamlessly interact. This fragmentation can lead to inefficiencies and gaps in safety monitoring. OPC UA is a solution to this problem. Find out “What OPC is good for” here.

Partners Spezialized in Worker Safety Solutions

Outlook – Next-Level Worker Safety

As partially explained in one of the sections above, the trends of worker safety include the development of robotic exoskeletons and the increased integration of AI to enable proactive worker safety measures. There is also an increase in focus on the use of technologies to improve and monitor the mental health of workers.

Robotic Exoskeletons

Robotic exoskeletons are wearable devices that are designed to assist workers in lifting heavy objects, reducing the risk of musculoskeletal injuries that are common in industries such as construction, manufacturing, and logistics. Exoskeletons can help workers maintain proper posture, alleviate physical strain, and increase endurance. This leads to fewer injuries and greater productivity. As technology advances, exoskeletons are becoming lighter, more affordable, and more adaptive to various tasks, making them a practical solution for improving workplace safety in physically demanding jobs.

Mental Health Monitoring

Mental-health conditions can lead to workplace presenteeism, absenteeism, and a reduction in productivity. As part of health management in companies, mental health and wellness programs are becoming digitalized and made available through personal digital devices such as smartphones, tablets, smart watches, and fitness trackers. Digital mental-health solutions and tools allows workers to decide how to deal with their own mental-health issues, and also increases the accessibility of mental-health support. Examples of these solutions include cognitive-behavioral therapy is provided via videos or apps that are designed to treat depression and anxiety. Chatbots and gamified exercises are also used to improve the mental health of workers.

Artificial Intelligence (AI)

As explained in the previous sections, artificial intelligence (AI) is playing an increasingly important role in enhancing worker safety through predictive analytics and automation. AI systems can analyze data from sensors and cameras to identify potential hazards and predict incidents before they occur. AI-powered robots can take over dangerous tasks, such as handling hazardous materials or performing high-precision operations. The continuous development of AI algorithms is making workplaces smarter and safer by proactively managing safety hazards.

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