Canadian Rental Service

What went Wong: The future of PPE

By James Wong   

Features Government and regulatory Tech tips

As the world streeks forward into the future of smart technology and the internet of things, so does the safety protection value of personal protective equipment. PPE innovations are most commonly seen in the form of wearables: sensors attached to existing PPE or newly designed built-in products. The end result collects and transmits data focussing on tracking, communication and warning alerts. These devices and systems enhance safety, increase work performance efficiency and provide on-demand scheduling.  

Here’s a list of technologies being developed and currently available.

Decibel level monitoring and speech identification Sensors send LED light signals detected by the user’s peripheral vision indicating impending noise hazards. The same sensor will send evacuation alerts and enable two-way communication with a smart phone app. Coupled with the general noise on jobsites, wearing hearing protection further diminishes the ability to communicate worker to worker. Noise blockers are now part of the ongoing improvements found in smart headsets and smart earplugs, blocking out noise and doubling as speech capable ear microphones.

Charge sensing boots There’s no limit to what these types of in-boot sensors will do. GPS sensors track the location of workers, monitor chemical and gas leaks and are also capable of sensing when a worker falls. The boot itself receives kinetic energy from walking, which powers the sensor system as well as charging for talk time on an iPhone. Even individual fatigue alerts can be programmed into these sensors.


Leather gloves New supercharged work gloves made from leather have eight times the protective value of standard leather work gloves. Shrink-proof with inherent softening longevity, the gloves use Kevlar stitching to increase the glove’s lifespan.

Tags Tags attached to PPE and mobile equipment detect and send alerts to the operator and crew, preventing accidents by using GPS coordinates. Alerts provide proximity warnings and each tag ID records the date, time and location of the alert, providing data for factors contributing to near struck-by and incidents as they happen.

Real time learning Emergency evacuation confirmation and instruction alerts can be delivered in real time while monitoring the evacuation itself, tracking workers at muster stations and finding those who are still in the building. All of these advantages diminish evacuation time, impacting worker safety and possibly lives saved. Communication to first responders provide the location of people left inside and track life signs, heart rate, pulse and emotional state.

Just-in-time training The standard for safety training is training conducted prior to deployment. Taking this approach does not guarantee workers will have the ability to translate that training into action or habit. The use of technology to train on the job in real time has superior advantages by sensing work activities, worker safety, and potential hazards. By providing corrective actions and instructing occupational first aid treatments, the net effect is to maximize safety. 

AI Now trained not only to detect and alert for hazards, AI can also analyse job types, detect missing PPE and provide social distancing alerts for group workers. Mitigating risks by using analytical data to compare and create benchmarks in real time is a jewel in the sand for the entire sector.

Adoption and training pose the most deterrent barriers for integrating smart technology. 

Latency issues are currently barriers for real time learning and just-in-time training because of the potential lag time. 5G infrastructure combined with Edge technology will eventually take care of any time inaccuracies to ensure there are no delays in communication. As with the history of all new technology, it’s expensive during the initial research and development phase presenting a disincentive for acquisition. Until it leans toward being widely used, we’ll just have to wait. Despite these challenges, smart safety’is a reality and before we know it, it will be everywhere.

Be safe. Be well. 

James Wong is an OHS chief for the construction industry.

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