EHS Management, Injuries and Illness

Smart PPE Now Tracks Worker’s Heat Susceptibility

If you work outside, you understand better than anyone the importance of staying hydrated, especially during the sweltering summer heat. While we all do the best we can, the summer heat can get the best of us and can lead to heat stress.

According to the Centers for Disease and Control, “heat stress can result in heat stroke, heat exhaustion, heat cramps, or heat rashes. Heat can also increase the risk of injuries in workers as it may result in sweaty palms, fogged-up safety glasses, and dizziness. Burns may also occur because of accidental contact with hot surfaces or steam.”

Construction PPE

Fortunately, in an industry surrounded by technology, the environment, health, and safety (EHS) industry can increase its safety options for workers with new Smart PPE technology from Kenzen, an innovative safety monitoring solutions company. EHS Daily Advisor recently spoke with Heidi Lehmann, President and CCO of Kenzen, to learn more about the device and how Smart PPE is changing the safety community.

Here’s what she had to say.

What is Smart PPE?

The category we’re in kind of ties in first to the larger industrial internet of things space. Specifically, within that, we’re in a category called Smart PPE. So that’s smart, personal protective equipment. Non-smart personal protective equipment might be a hat, hard hat, gloves, or a smock that you would wear to protect you from the elements or chemicals or a rock falling on you. When you add sensors, cloud connectivity and the delivery of real time information it becomes Smart PPE. So, in our case, safety information becomes smart. So that’s the category, and what we’re building and what we do is we are a physiological monitoring platform to predict and prevent avoidable injuries from workforces across the globe.

Thank you for that overview. Essentially, Kenzen offers a physiological monitoring platform to predict and prevent avoidable injuries from workforces worldwide.

That is correct. The device weighs about 30 grams and it’s worn on the forearm. The reason that it’s not worn on the wrist is because the wrist is a very noisy place to get readings. If you think about it, there’s a lot of cartilage and bone and when you’re walking, it rubs. So, it’s fine for things like the prediction of heart rate or activity and motion, which is what a basic fitness tracker would look at. However, when you are looking at something like core body temperature, you need that flat plain of skin and flesh. So, the upper arm is one of the ideal places to wear, there’s eight different places on the body it can be worn, but in terms of fitting into the workflow of a worker, the upper arm is the best place.

Our device samples a worker’s physiology every five seconds, collecting tens of thousands of data points per worker per shift. It does this in real time and detects a slight shift in the worker’s physiology. Remember, this is all done on an individual worker basis. This is important because we’re all different based on age, gender, overall health medications we may be taking, and other factors. So, we’ll send a worker an alert via vibration of the device and an alert on their phone, if they are trending in a dangerous direction and are at risk proceeded jury. Now the safety manager of the worker will monitor the entire team. So, the whole team would have a device like this.

They don’t see any of the individual specifics of the health data, only the worker sees that because we’re very buttoned up in terms of privacy. The safety manager will see if a worker has gotten an alert and they dismissed it and it hasn’t stopped working. Sometimes workers will do that because they just want to get the job done, or there’s like a band of brother’s mentality that kicks in and then the worker just won’t stop. So, the safety manager in the field can intervene and say, “you need to stop, seek shade, hydrate, take a layer of clothing off.” After that, there’ll be another alert given to the safety manager and worker when the physiological variables have returned to normal, and the worker can then go back to work.

Kenzen’s Smart PPE device now tracks heat susceptibility and sweat rate for worker heat monitoring, correct?

That is true. The final piece of the device is the corporate environmental health and safety or EHS leaders’ analytics. These can be used both retrospectively to understand what has happened on a work site as well as a planning tool. For example, the safety manager can say, based on this weather, based on this condition, here’s how we need to protect workers. Here’s what we need to do. So, some of the things we looked at are core body temperature, workers’ schedules, and acclimatization microclimate. These are all things that factor into keeping a worker safe from heat. So sweat rate and volume is an input to hydration. And what it shows is on any given work site, what sort of water or sports drinks need to be consumed on a work group and an individual worker level to keep them safe.

It also shows heat susceptibility, whether it’s low, medium, or high risk in terms of a worker. For example, if it gets very hot, which workers are most at risk? A driving factor behind why a worker would be at risk is something called acclimatization. So that just means that would be a new worker, who’s not used to the work site, or even if you’ve just been, for example, in air conditioning all week. And then suddenly, you’re back on a work site and it’s hot. You’re not going to be acclimatized. So that would put you at a high risk for heat injury.

Obviously Kenzen is an innovative company but what was the driving spark to come up with such a device?

I think it was just having an impact on an underserved demographic of high-risk workers and understanding that there’s really been a shift now within EHS and EHS departments. So, it means that we can look now at, instead of looking at accidents, like what has happened, somebody’s had a stroke because of heat injury or whatever the situation is, to near misses. This almost happened based on a small physiological shift. So, the broader space we’re in is called precision health. And so, we are a group of scientists, connected device experts, and mobile technology people. And then of course, industrial workforce veterans that are very concerned with the individual. So, precision health is all about understanding the health of an individual to predict and prevent, rather than a population or a group.

I think we’re all very committed to that, but because of our kind of collective background working on work sites, we knew that workers were an underserved demographic that were on hot construction sites or around smelters, where it can be up to 145 degrees Fahrenheit, or wind turbine technicians, which are called lone workers, those that are out and remote and away from anyone that can monitor them. So, this is a way to self-monitor and it’s also a way for workforces to monitor, to make sure that workers are safe and resting and hydrating when they need to.

This technology is on time and certainly beneficial for workers with the high heat index the U.S. has been experiencing as of late.

Definitely. Summer’s absolutely a very busy time for us because of the high temperatures. What we’re finding, though, is heats become much more of a year-round problem. We know that 17 percent of exertional heat injuries happen in the cooler weather, right? So high temperature is one reason, but others might just be standing alone. Poor hydration? So simply from not having enough to drink that day or having too much to drink the night before, whichever it is, a worker can have a heat injury or illness, acclimatization, as we mentioned. So, a new worker not used to a site, whether it’s hot or not, or being in air conditioning all week. Then suddenly you’re back on a hotter site which can cause a heat injury, but also just high exertion. Also, working hard that, in and of itself, can cause a heat injury.

Last year we did the climates across the country with one construction company and comparing Washington DC to Arizona, to Florida, to Texas, to Colorado, and the place that got the most heat alerts will surprise you. It was Colorado in the morning, which it was the coolest place at the coolest time of day, but it’s because workers were dressing, they were arriving to the work site between 5:00 and 6:00 AM working hard and getting those heat alerts. So, at the hotter times of the day, sometimes at work sites it’s clearer to them somebody should be slowing down, but in the morning and the cooler temperatures, it wasn’t. So, it was a big surprise to the EHS professionals on the site to see that it was in the morning time that these workers were most subject to heat injury, in this particular case.

Can you talk about the dangers of high heat?

Some of the symptoms are going to be lack of dexterity. So, lack of a buildup. When you think about somebody that’s operating dangerous equipment or is on a high beam, your dexterity goes, your cognition goes, so maybe you can’t focus on anything it’s going to cause dizziness, irritability, and feeling faint. These are just some of the basic symptoms, but you could also have a heat stroke, which can cause, certainly injury, but even death and heat injury compounds. Once you’ve had a heat injury you become that much more susceptible to having a heat injury in the future. That makes the body cardiovascular less efficient, impacting all the organs. So, if you can be preventative, that’s ideal and heat injury is one of those conditions. That’s 100% preventable. If it’s detected early, it’s just hard to know what’s happening until it’s too late and it can happen as simply as somebody goes on a construction site and they put on an outer layer that might protect them from being gouged by a sharp object on a site, for example. So that’s good, but it can heat up that microclimate, in between the skin and the clothing, and put somebody at a 42% higher risk of heat injury almost immediately. So, it happens very fast.

How much does Smart PPE cost?

It’s an enterprise solution, which means it’s subscription-based and it’s on a per worker per month basis. Honestly, the ROI that we’re evaluated on, the return on investment by a work site is of course keeping the workers safe, keeping them more productive, but then also saving the company money. So, we’re also partnering with insurance companies that serve industrial companies, and they’re very interested to see if a worker is more fit for duty, less hospitalization, less days away from work, then they’re going to be in better shape. Insurance companies are always calculating the value of the device.

This of summer, Kenzen, has a rental program for companies to quickly deploy the technology with packages 10, 20, and 50 devices.

The rental program is for two things. First, the summer months. Some companies are not going to need the Kenzen device all year round. So, the rental program kind of targets first timers who just want to try it like small construction or agriculture companies that probably don’t want, or can’t, invest in an enterprise SAS solution. These kinds of companies just need it for a limited period. So, what that offers is the devices and the dashboard for the safety managers so they can intervene. What it doesn’t include are the advanced analytics, because that’s kind of when it gets to be more of a full-scale service, but for workers that just want to stay safe in the field, it’s a great kind of entry starter option for them. So at least they can get the alerts and the safety manager can keep track of their team and know when somebody is at risk.