for the EHS Professional
The Latest Features (and Security Concerns) for Your Smart Device
By Mark Rollins
In the November 2011 Synergist, I reviewed some of the nascent apps for the EHS professional. But that was more than three years ago (21 in “computer years”), and the number of apps has grown tremendously. And while the iTunes store doesn’t yet have an “EHS/Risk apps” section, there are still a lot of great apps we can use to make our job easier. Also, new hardware is coming out that can be repurposed for EHS use.
GENERAL APPS One of the most useful apps on my tablet is Microsoft Office, released for iOS/iPad in early 2014. The Office apps are free for viewing documents; use of editing tools and other features requires an “Office 360” subscription, which is about $100 per year.
EHS REFERENCE APPS The advantage of carrying a thin tablet instead of stacks of documents is obvious. The books, PDFs, papers, journals, and magazines on my iPad right now would amount to a roughly 12-foot-high stack of hardcopy publications.
In addition to the convenience of carrying PDFs and e-books instead of actual books, several EHS reference apps are available for smart devices. GESTIS ILV - Occupational Limits from the German Social Accident Insurance (IFA) lists chemical exposure limit values for EU member states, Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, Switzerland, the United States, and others. It’s great for those with international responsibilities. Best of all, it’s free.
The GHS Mixture Calculator from Chemical Experts will calculate a mixture hazard based on the Globally Harmonized System. One caveat is that you must input the data; this is not a massive database of all potential mixtures.
Though it doesn’t have the best name, the Danger! app from EWHVDHout has a great reference of GHS hazard phrases (including P-, H-, and EUH-phrases) and symbols.
Cabrera, from Cabrera Services, is a handy radiation reference. It includes radionuclide decay chains, decay series, chemical data, and tools to estimate exposure from radionuclides. The app is free, likely because it’s an excellent advertisement for the company, as are several good apps. (I suppose a new category for apps could be “appertisement.”)
Another free app/advertisement is the NIOSH Lift Calculator from Humantech. This app makes applying the NIOSH lifting equation easier. It works in both metric and imperial units, and it generates a color PDF report. You still have to know what some of the parameters and choices mean, but it’s far easier than interpreting NIOSH’s 164-page Applications Manual for the Revised NIOSH Lifting Equation. OTHER APPS AND HARDWARE There are two good, free job hazard/safety analysis apps: iJSA and Task Hazard ID. These allow you to conduct a process review and identify inherent risk. You can define and assess the hazards, use menu-driven options, and print reports.
If you have people working outside, it’s important to be aware of severe weather incidents. Weather Radio, from Weather Decision Technologies, provides emergency alerts on severe storm warnings. Bolt Meter, available from AllisonHouse, uses GPS and National Weather Service data to determine the proximity of lightning strikes. Tornado is a free app from the American Red Cross that provides tornado-specific warnings and guidelines.
One simple app that could be a true lifesaver is VRPETERS, the Vehicle Rollover Prevention Education Training Emergency Reporting System, from the University of Missouri. If a farmer rolls a tractor, accelerometers and a GPS in his or her smart device detect the rollover, and VRPETERS automatically e-mails and messages the coordinates of the accident.
In my previous article and in any PDCs I’ve taught, I have recommended Faber Acoustical’s sound level meter (SLM) app, SoundMeter. I was pleased to see others have also recommended it: the study “Evaluation of Smartphone Sound Measurement Apps” published in the April 2014 issue of the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America found Faber’s product to be the most accurate.
Someone in one of my classes recently asked, “Could I go to court with SoundMeter on my phone?” My reply was that it’s calibrated and it meets the accuracy requirements for an ANSI Type-2 SLM, a designation for instruments that can be used for general-purpose noise surveys. However, the Faber website includes this disclaimer: “Although it has been designed to do so, SoundMeter has not been shown to meet ANSI or IEC standards for sound level meters. The standards require conformance of the entire measurement system including software, hardware and microphones.”
If you want a more accurate SLM, get a calibrated microphone. Faber can use the MiniDSP UMIK-1 USB microphone. Another good microphone is the Dayton Audio iMM-6, an omnidirectional Class 2 mic with a calibration file. I use this mic with the app StudioSixDigital, which can look up and import the online calibration data.
My November 2011 article discussed Magic Plan, which “magically” makes fairly accurate, to-scale floor plans of a room you’re standing in. I have jokingly cautioned that you wouldn’t want to build a house with these plans. However, technology marches on, and with Prexiso laser distance meters, which work with Magic Plan and the app My Measures & Dimensions, you probably could build a house based on these more accurate measurements.
For those who have used one, an infrared (IR) camera is an invaluable tool for assessing things like overheated electronics as well as water damage for mold investigation. Overheated electronics are hot, and wet areas are cold from evaporation. An IR camera can image these temperature differences as different colors. Infrared cameras from FLIR Systems have an app that lets you shoot photos and output a report as a PDF right from your iPhone. However, a high-resolution IR camera has two drawbacks: price (more than $3,000) and size. Also, if you travel internationally with the IR camera, you’d better have a bill of sale when you try to bring it into another country; otherwise, you may have to pay a duty tax.
IR cameras are available for smart devices. They don’t have the resolution of a multi-thousand-dollar unit, but they’re smaller than a deck of playing cards and sell for $300 or less. Models are available from FLIR, RH Workshop, Mu Optics, and Seek Thermal.
Hardware/software solutions for measuring radiation with your smart device are also available. iRad gets its power from the iPhone headphone jack and can measure Alpha, Beta, and Gamma. I have used an inexpensive yet accurate Geiger counter I found on eBay; when coupled with an app like GeigerBot from ND Apps, this device can be as accurate as one that costs hundreds more.
The Shaka meter from Shakaon.net is a small vane anemometer, useful for impromptu ventilation screening. It is of course not as good as a true velometer, but it’s 1/50th the size and about 1/20th the cost. There’s also one that has a thermometer for calculating wind chill.
And yes: a Geiger counter off eBay, an SLM app, and a cheap IR camera are no substitute for the real thing. But they are far less expensive and almost as accurate (in some cases, equally accurate) as the real thing; the size/weight difference is tremendous; and you can have them available at all times. I have an “EHS bag of tricks” about the size of a cigar box that holds an IR camera, Geiger counter, velometer, temperature/humidity probe, combustible gas sensor, and calibrated microphone. It weighs about a pound.
About that gas sensor: SensorCon makes a tiny detector, called SensorDrone, that connects wirelessly via BlueTooth 4 and measures a host of things, including carbon monoxide, methane, propane, ozone, and humidity. BlueTooth 4 (BT4), also known as Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), is a new standard that uses power more efficiently. BLE devices run for years on coin-cell batteries and have a range of up to 300 feet (90 meters).
The SensorDrone was funded through KickStarter.com, a crowdsourcing site. Crowdsourcing raises money for a project based on prototypes; the funds are used to pay for tooling and production. Contributors can get the final product at a cheaper price, provided the project reaches sufficient funding.
Some of the devices that use BLE to connect to your smart device are health- or activity-related, but can be useful for EHS. Pedometers such as FitBit could assess distance for ergonomic studies. Heat stress could be evaluated by a thermometer that sticks on the skin (app and hardware from Raiing). An oxygen meter, such as the one from iHealth, would allow someone to remotely read the pulse and blood O2 levels of an emergency responder.
Some BT4 devices make it very difficult to lose something. How many readers have misplaced a sample device, or had someone play “hide the pump”? A sticker about the size of a bottle cap (available from Pally and other companies) can track things up to 300 feet.SECURITY AND PRIVACY CONCERNS While the development of new EHS apps is good news, there are also a few new security and privacy concerns since my article “Smart Security: Tips for Securing Your Smart Phone” appeared in the January 2011 Synergist.
Why should you should be concerned about the security of these devices? Because they often contain a lot of confidential information, including personal and business data. And many of us strive to live our lives publicly through social media. We have tweets and blogs and Facebook and other places where we post information—birthdates, family information, location—that could help someone steal data.
Be aware that when you take a picture, your GPS coordinates are recorded inside the photograph. They are stored as EXIF (exchangeable image file) data, along with date, shutter speed, and other information. If you don’t want to share your location via a photo, apps are available that allow you to edit or delete EXIF data. You could also just turn off GPS before shooting.
Although many smart devices allow a photo to be cropped, the data might still be visible to people who have the proper image editing software. What can you do to ensure that confidential content is really removed? Some photo editing apps truly remove the data. Another trick is to take a screenshot of the cropped image; in the resulting photo, the cropped area is truly gone. (To get a screenshot on iOS devices, press the power and home buttons at the same time; for Android devices, press and hold the power and volume-down buttons at the same time for 1-2 seconds.)
To protect your privacy, you should avoid sharing too much personal information. Consider that a data thief typically needs any combination of:
- home address
- mother’s maiden name
- answers to “secret questions” (a pet’s name, a favorite team, and so on)
How does someone get these? Your address, as mentioned, can be in a photo posted online. Your birthdate can be found on a social medial website (happy birthday—you’ve been hacked!). To find your mother’s maiden name, a hacker could figure out which genealogy group you’ve joined. Answers to your “secret question” are sometimes breathtakingly simple to glean; maybe you’ve blogged your pet’s name, declared your love for the Red Sox on Facebook, or joined a high school alumni group.
I don’t want to deny you your birthday wishes from friends across the globe. Just change the date slightly: if you were born Jan. 20, 1959, make it Jan. 19, 1961. You’ll still get messages, just a day early.
And for any data you post, limit your sharing to “friends” unless the information is specific to a particular innocuous post with broader appeal. Learn how to maintain privacy on social media. (A 2013 article in Consumer Reports stated that “almost 13 million users said they had never set, or didn’t know about, Facebook’s privacy tools.”)
If you follow my recommendations, it’s highly possible your data and privacy will not be compromised. However, I’m reminded of a quote from William Riley, former head of the EPA: “Zero risk is a chimera, a beckoning illusion. To try to achieve it would consume unjustifiable amounts of resources, and entail forgoing much progress.” MARK ROLLINS, CIH, CSP, is a member of AIHA’s Computer Applications Committee. He can be reached at (202) 569-8027 or AppsForEHS@Gmail.com.
Coming Soon: The App Listing Project The AIHA Computer Applications Committee (CAC) has undertaken a project to identify apps that AIHA members can use for professional purposes. Headed by John Svagr, the listing will be published soon on the CAC Web page at http://bit.ly/aihacac and will be updated continuously.
Editor’s note: This article is for information only. Any mention of specific products does not constitute endorsement by AIHA or The Synergist.
A Geiger counter off eBay, an SLM app, and a cheap IR camera are no substitute for the real thing. But they are far less expensive and almost as accurate.