Industrial Hygiene, Heat Safety, and Intrinsically Safe PPE

Heidi E. Lehmann and Skip Orvis, Contributors

What is Industrial Hygiene?

According to OSHA, industrial hygiene is “the science of anticipating, recognizing, evaluating and controlling workplace conditions that may cause workers’ injury or illness. Industrial hygienists use environmental monitoring and analytical methods to detect the extent of worker exposure and employ engineering, work practice controls, and other methods to control potential health hazards.” This means that the workplace must be set up with the goal to eliminate occupational hazards.

Industrial workplaces are filled with potential hazards, and their environments must be monitored closely to maximize safety.

Heat Safety

With the combination of COVID-19 and one of the hottest years on record, employers must take the necessary precautions to keep their workers safe in the heat. The majority of heat-related injury/illness occurs during the first few days back on the job, when workers are not properly heat-acclimatized. It is during this time that it is highly recommended that managers closely monitor their workers and implement necessary precautions to maintain industrial hygiene. A few key actions to be taken are as follows:

  • Workers should start back up with a smaller workload and gradually increase their duties.
  • Proper hydration and cooling stations should also be mandated.
  • Introducing more breaks in a cool location is an effective way to help workers stay hydrated throughout the workday and, as a result, keep their core body temperature lower during work in the heat.
  • Also, the introduction of smart PPE could be a useful tool in preventing heat-related injury/illness.

Smart PPE in the Industrial Workforce

In 2020, nearly every American has been introduced to the term PPE.  Standard PPE, just to survive daily life, are masks and hand sanitizer to protect from COVID-19. In addition to these now standard items, PPE in the workforce looks a little bit different.

With significant advances in workforce safety, Industrial workers can rely on smart PPE systems that do more than just simply protect from COVID-19. Certain smart PPE, like the Patch from Kenzen, enables supervisors to monitor workers’ core body temperature and heart rate, with the intention of preventing heat-related injury and illness.

With the combination of COVID-19 keeping workers off of worksites; shortening acclimatization plans; and the forecast for the summer of 2020 to be one of the hottest on record, it is essential to utilize every tool possible to keep workers safe.

Occupational Hazards in Oil/Gas & Mining

Both oil/gas and mining workers operate in dangerous environments that require proper industrial hygiene practices. A deadly catastrophe is only one mistake away.

In oil/gas, the risk of explosion is especially high, due to the flammable materials being dealt with. A single spark from any source or device could result in a devastating fire causing severe injury, death and equipment damage.  Other significant dangers that mine workers need to consider are oxygen deficiency, dehydration and even dangerous radiation.

In addition to these workplace dangers, another often unseen danger is heat. Many projects within the oil/gas and mining industry expose workers to high heat loads which can result in heat injuries and/or illnesses and reduced productivity.

Advanced Standards for PPE in Hazardous Locations: Intrinsic Safety Certification

All tools and equipment that are used in hazardous locations, like those found in oil/gas and mining—including safety monitoring devices—must be certified as intrinsically safe.

A device that is labeled and certified as “intrinsically safe” is designed to have specific electrical and thermal characteristics, so it absolutely will not cause an explosion in the workplace.

Cell phones and smart PPE fall into a special area of concern for ignition sources, as each contain batteries, capacitors and inductors that are capable of storing large amounts of energy. Each of these elements has the potential to produce a spark and/or start a fire if their stored energy is released quickly and unexpectedly—resulting in the “spontaneous combustion” of gas and particles that exist in the air.  The risk increases during the summer, when high temperatures make the working conditions even more extreme.

The process of receiving the “intrinsically safe” (IS) certification is rigorous and expensive. Devices go through a series of specialized tests performed by Underwriters Laboratories, the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) and test labs, such as the Intertek Group.

The IS-certification process begins at the start of the products’ design and is performed in tandem with product development. Product developers and manufacturers build safeguards into each piece of their product, as well as the system as a whole, in preparation to meet the stringent standards.

Combining Physiological Monitoring with Hazardous Location Device Safety

Many wearable devices are able to track physiological indicators, such as heart rate and activity.  However, none of these devices are capable of protecting workers in hazardous locations. This changes with the introduction of an IS-certified monitoring device.

The Kenzen Patch workforce safety system is on track to become the first IS-certified physiological monitoring system, providing data that is crucial to industrial hygienists in their efforts to keep workers safe in extreme working conditions, while mitigating chances of starting an explosion (from the device).  Insights gained from using the system can be used to adjust workplace policies and procedures, from setting personalized work/rest schedules; to modifying worker schedules; to even adding heat safety infrastructure—such as ice baths to the highest risk locations.

Smart PPE and the Future

While workplaces have always required well defined policies and procedures to keep workers safe, 2020 has created additional challenges for workforce safety staff. Technological advances in sensors and safety systems can help to combat these new challenges. Just as the words “connected,” “integrated” and “smart” have become a part of every consumer’s life, we can expect that these will also become an integral part of workforce safety in the future. IHW

About the Authors

Heidi E. Lehmann is Chief Commercial Officer and a Co-Founder of Kenzen, the smart PPE innovator focused on physiological monitoring and the prevention of heat injury and death among workers. Kenzen’s real-time heat monitoring system is used by companies to keep workers safe from heat. Heidi is a mobile technology entrepreneur in the connected devices / wearable products, mobile platforms and distributed media arena.

Skip Orvis is Vice President, Engineering, at Kenzen. He has more than 20 years of product development experience for both the Consumer and Industrial markets. He is also a U.S. Navy veteran who has experience working in extreme conditions, through multiple deployments to the Middle East.