Harnessing Wearable Technology: Revolutionizing Heat Safety Across Industries

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By: Nick HernandezContributor

In today’s modern climate, global temperatures are on the rise. Therefore, the threat of heat-related illness looms large, particularly in industries such as oil and gas, mining and metallurgy, and manufacturing.

Beyond mere discomfort, heat exposure poses significant health risks to workers in these sectors, where extreme heat is often part of the job. In such environments, the combination of high temperatures and humidity can overwhelm the body’s ability to regulate its internal temperature, leading to heat illness, dehydration and, in severe cases, cardiovascular and respiratory complications, renal failure and heat stroke—of which the most severe cases can be fatal.

The toll of heat strain is evident in symptoms like dizziness, nausea, headaches and muscle cramps. Yet, the impact extends beyond one’s physical health—affecting cognitive functions, such as concentration, decision-making and reaction time, thereby increasing the likelihood of accidents and errors. The convergence of urban heat islands, an aging population and urbanization trends amplify the vulnerability of urban communities to heat-related health impacts, portending a concerning future scenario.

By prioritizing heat safety and leveraging wearable tech, companies operating in these industries can optimize worker performance; enhance productivity; and reduce the risk of heat-related illnesses and injuries. (photo courtesy Kenzen)

Need for Protection & Prevention

In response to this pressing issue, Letitia James, the New York State Attorney General, is spearheading a coalition of attorney generals from states including Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia. Together, they are advocating for the implementation of an emergency extreme heat standard by petitioning the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), Congress and the presidential administration before the onset of summer 2024. This initiative underscores the urgency of addressing heat-related risks and protecting workers across various sectors from the debilitating effects of extreme heat.

Preventing heat-related illness is paramount, not only for preserving physical health, but also for maintaining productivity and safety in industries where precision and alertness are critical. Traditional prevention strategies, such as hydration protocols, mandatory rest breaks and acclimatization programs, are essential but may not address individual needs. Furthermore, the implementation of these strategies can fall short on worksites. According to an OSHA Case Series, none (0 of 31) of the employers surveyed had a formal plan in place to facilitate gradual heat acclimatization for new or returning workers. Similarly, none (0 of 34) enforced mandatory rest breaks when the workload and environmental heat exceeded recommended heat stress exposure limits. These findings underscore a notable deficiency in workplace safety protocols.

Wearable Tech to the Rescue

This is where wearable technology emerges as a game-changer. Wearable devices equipped with sensors for monitoring vital signs, such as heart rate, core body temperature and hydration, provide workers in these industries with real-time risk assessments and insights into their physiological responses to heat exposure. By analyzing this data and employing predictive algorithms, wearable technology offers personalized recommendations on when to rest, hydrate or seek shade—thus helping to prevent heat-
related illnesses before they occur.

Wearable devices equipped with sensors for monitoring vital signs, such as heart rate, core body temperature and hydration, provide workers with real-time risk assessments and insights into their physiological responses to heat exposure. (photo courtesy Kenzen)

Safety-dedicated companies like Kenzen have pioneered a wearable solution designed to deliver real-time alerts to workers when they approach dangerous levels of heat exposure, thereby enhancing overall heat stress-management among employees. Worn discreetly on the upper arm, this continuous physiological insights system employs an individualized algorithm that considers various personal factors to accurately predict core body temperature. Moreover, in addition to notifying workers wearing the device through vibrations, safety managers can oversee workers on the ground through an intuitive team dashboard. From a leadership perspective, valuable data insights can help guide future decision-making processes.

The consequences of untreated heat-related illnesses are dire, particularly in high-risk industries. Impaired cognitive function and heightened instances of worker errors resulting from heat stress not only jeopardize safety protocols, but can also lead to severe accidents with lasting repercussions. Furthermore, prolonged exposure to extreme heat, compounded by the absence of appropriate interventions, can contribute to chronic health complications, such as heat intolerance, neurological damage, liver and renal failure, and other potentially fatal outcomes.

Additionally, research has shown that cumulative exposure to extreme heat can initiate a series of neurological events, such as cellular damage and oxidative stress, which may impede an individual’s cognitive capacity over time. By prioritizing heat safety and leveraging wearable tech, companies operating in these industries can optimize worker performance; enhance productivity; and reduce the risk of heat-related illnesses and injuries.

Wearable technology represents a significant advancement in the realm of heat safety across industries. By empowering workers to understand their physiological responses to heat exposure and take proactive measures to prevent heat-related illnesses, wearables are revolutionizing workplace safety in environments where extreme temperatures are part of the daily routine.

As companies embrace this innovative approach, they not only protect the health and well-being of their workforce, but also ensure operational efficiency and adherence to safety regulations. In doing so, they pave the way for a future where heat-related illnesses are not just treated but prevented altogether—ensuring the safety and productivity of workers in industries where heat exposure is a constant challenge. IHW

About the Author:

Nick Hernandez is the Global Account Manager at Kenzen, provider of continuous safety monitoring solutions that harness the power of physiological data to predict and prevent injury, illness and death caused by heat on worksites around the world.

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