Want to Beat the Heat? Slap on Some Wearable Tech

July 27th, 2023 by Joshua Huff

According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), every year thousands of workers become sick from occupational heat exposure. Some cases are even fatal. But heat-related injuries are preventable, OSHA officials point out, and one construction firm aims to do so via the use of wearable technologies.

The need for safety propelled Dallas-based Rogers-O’Brien Construction to launch a pilot program using a health and safety software named Safeguard, developed by Sentinel Occupational Safety Inc. Sensors are small enough to be embedded in an armband; Rogers-O’Brien uses a Polar Verity Sense band and Garmin watches.

The Safeguard software is a preventive safety risk oversight layer on top of existing systems, reducing workplace accidents and saving costs. It includes real-time, longitudinal and preventive monitoring of personnel operating in high-risk environments. Photo courtesy of Rogers-O’Brien Construction.

“We’re pioneering a new era of worker safety,” says Todd Wynne, chief innovation officer. “SafeGuard technology empowers us to prevent heat-related risks and protect our employees like never before. As the first general contractor to adopt this game-changing solution, we’re setting a precedent for the industry and demonstrating our unwavering commitment to sending everyone home daily.”

The Safeguard software is a preventive safety risk oversight layer on top of existing systems, reducing workplace accidents and saving costs. It includes real-time, longitudinal and preventive monitoring of personnel operating in high-risk environments. The wearable sensors provide real-time biophysiological and environmental readings for all workers, while artificial intelligence analyzes the signals to predict potential issues before they happen.

The pilot program unintentionally coincided with a new Texas law signed by Gov. Greg Abbot in June 2023, ending mandatory water breaks for construction workers, glaziers and other tradespeople. The law takes effect in September 2023. Prior to the law’s passage, various Texas cities required construction workers to take 10-minute breaks every four hours to hydrate and protect themselves from the sun.

Proponents of the new law explain that local rules were too rigid and did not allow the flexibility to tailor breaks to individual jobsite conditions. For some contractors, such as Spring, Texas-based Momentum Glass, and Dallas-based Haley-Greer, the end to mandated water breaks are of little consequence. Both companies ensure their employees have the supplies to remain cool during the hot Texas summer.

Rogers-O’Brien has gone a step further, deploying the wearable Safeguard technology to monitor personnel to prevent heat exhaustion on jobsites. The company is the first general contractor to pilot the program. Other adopters include Boeing, the United States Air Force Research Laboratory and the Department of Homeland Security.

Rogers-O’Brien has deployed the wearable technology across three major jobsites in Texas. The goal is to reduce heat-related risks in the construction industry, which has dominated headlines this year, as summer temperatures hit unprecedented highs. In fact, NASA officials say that July will likely become the hottest month on Earth in recorded history.

“We’ve known for years about heat illness, but training only gets us to a certain level,” Ross Daly, director of safety at Rogers-O’Brien, told The Dallas Morning News. “This technology allows us to go a step further and monitor each other to be more proactive and not wait to start feeling sick to act.”

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