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Every year over 4,000 people die from the effects of long-term exposure to dangers in the workplace, many because of hazardous substances. Of course, there are rules in place to protect employees who are working with these substances. But now a smart helmet is being developed that could make work even safer.
According to Eelco Kuijpers, a science innovator at TNO, levels of harmful substances are currently measured a few times a year. But these snapshots do not give an insight into how high the peaks can get every day. And because people often have to wait for the results of a measurement, according to Kuijpers, people are merely responding to events. That is why TNO has launched VOHA: Virtual Occupational Hygiene Assistant. This is a digital system that uses sensors that can, amongst other things, directly measure the number of chemical substances.
The system analyzes the values and gives immediate advice. They can place the sensors on helmets, work clothes, and equipment. But it doesn’t stop there. Additional functions could be added to the system in the future. For example, devices that switch off when the environment becomes unhealthy or extraction systems that switch on automatically.
Smart helmet could make the workplace safer
To test the system, TNO is collaborating with IoT company Gemba. The smart helmet project started at the beginning of 2020. Using sensors on a helmet, Gemba wants to monitor employees on a construction site. For example, the sensors can inform workers if there is a gas leak. But the technology can also track where people walk so that the routes can be improved.
They have purposely opted for a helmet because it is worn on all construction sites the world over. They expect the helmet to be ready for use by mid-2021, and if successful, they want to expand the functionality. It could, for example, also measure sound levels. With the support of iTanks, an innovation platform for the port industry, they hope to map this information.
Downside of the smart helmet
This invention sounds wonderful. Yet for years I have been reading reports about sensors on work clothing and protective equipment. It doesn’t seem to take off. According to Jan Cees van Baaren it is a good development, but there are also a lot of snags. For years he worked on sensors for firefighters’ clothing that monitor the effects of heat.
“It’s a great technology because it can make your job much safer, but it also has a downside. What do you do with the data and what about privacy? It is of course personal data. Does your end-of-year assessment include a printout from the system? Also, you need to take into account that the system can be hacked. In short: there is much more to it. ”
Gemba has said they are aware of the issues and that there is also responsibility on the employer when it comes to the protection of personal data.
The system is a good development, but it also presents challenges. Where are the boundaries when it comes to privacy and what are the priorities? It’s an interesting theme, and one we haven’t finished talking about for the foreseeable future.