Imagine going through your normal routine without your smartphone. If you’re like most people, this once-simple communications device is now your main source of knowledge, and it enhances your situational awareness on multiple levels. You use it to check today’s weather forecast while getting ready for work, find an interesting new restaurant for lunch (and actually locate it), let your friends know via text message or Twitter that you’re heading to a conference, book a hotel room, and share the outcome of your CIH exam on LinkedIn or Facebook. The rapid adoption of smart HHDs (handheld devices, including phones, tablets, and even smart watches) allows us to find and share beneficial information in real time to an extent that seemed impossible not long ago. And how many more images and videos of your activities, surroundings, and meaningful events, both positive (my son’s recent school orchestra performance comes to mind) and negative (likewise the minor damage to my auto during a recent ice-induced mishap), do you now create and share in real-time just because you can? Now imagine your HHD is remotely connected to multiple devices that can be monitored, controlled, or interrogated. This expands your sphere of influence to include machines as well as people. Devices such as remotely accessible home thermostats and security systems are a fast-growing area of consumer acceptance; an article in the Spring 2015 issue of Intelligent Utility Magazine estimates that “nearly 32 million smart thermostats will be installed worldwide by the year 2020.” Smart home security systems are being adopted rapidly in the U.S., and 37 percent of consumers say they will likely purchase a smart home security camera or thermostat in the next 12 months—and that number jumps to 55 percent for millennials, according to iControl Networks’ 2015 State of the Smart Home report. The next wave of consumer-driven technology—accessing and controlling everyday devices remotely—is developing in a way that crosses over into the Internet of Things as well as the manufacturing, service, and processing-related technology environment called the “Industrial Internet.” 

The Engineering Toolbox Next, imagine the HHD in your pocket, which already contains sensors for detecting light, temperature, pressure, magnetic fields, acceleration, and orientation, has a free app that converts those sensors’ output into numerical SI units representing these measurands…et voila, you have the beginnings of a compact “engineering toolbox” that can greatly enhance your ability to measure and react to changes in your environment in real time. Many apps use the sensors already in your phone to detect potential hazards. Let’s take this a step further and add some low-cost hardware that either plugs directly into your HHD or interfaces using Bluetooth, like a precision microphone, a gas sensor, or even a radiation monitor (“Geiger Counter”). Through these tools, industrial hygienists of the (very near) future will benefit from developments that all started with a simple concept: a miniaturized computer that fits in your pocket and just happens to make phone calls! When you view your smartphone or tablet as a central hub for acquiring, accessing, and sharing information and data in real time, its vast potential for industrial hygiene becomes apparent. The universe of applications, accessories, and appurtenances that relate to our profession is rapidly expanding, and adoption of these technologies is just beginning. However, using handhelds to assess risk and measure exposure to workplace hazards raises many concerns. One is the need to balance the desire for acquiring far greater numbers of exposure samples at low cost with the accuracy required for any one sample to be meaningful, let alone consistent with measurement standards including traceable field calibration and with acceptable limits of uncertainty for regulatory compliance purposes. Most, if not all, of the low-cost sensors currently offered to interface with HHDs for real-time measurements are just okay at detecting the targeted agents of concern, and they do not meet ANSI, IEC, or other relevant standards for accuracy in determining exposure risks relative to published Threshold Limit Values (TLVs), Permissible Exposure Limits (PELs), and other occupational exposure limits. While these sensors may rapidly improve as demand and investment leap forward, smartphones are currently poor substitutes for standards-compliant quantitative measuring instruments. That said, these devices make excellent screening tools and provide an on-the-spot capability for responding to worker concerns about agents such as noise, vibration, and lighting levels. For maximum effectiveness and credibility when using these apps, you can find published studies of their relative accuracy by various researchers, including NIOSH staff. This concern doesn’t automatically preclude the use of HHDs in industrial hygiene applications where the exposure measurements have to be made with instruments meeting the required standards. More manufacturers are adding wireless real-time communication capability to their instruments, which allows the practitioner to monitor and record exposure levels on multiple workers simultaneously. Practitioners can also control the monitoring devices to start and stop a sample without interrupting the worker. Given the capability to capture data wirelessly from instruments, along with other features such as the camera, the HHD becomes a convenient platform for acquiring, aggregating, enhancing, and sharing exposure data, much the way we currently share photos of that great meal we just sat down to at the latest bistro.
Strength in Numbers
Tablets and smartphones hold tremendous potential as tools for data aggregation, analysis, and reporting on a grand scale. Crowdsourcing apps are already being used to make maps of noise levels in large metropolitan areas: smartphone users take a “sound snapshot,” which is then transferred to the Internet, along with their GPS coordinates, to create a public “color contour map” of the environmental noise. Crowdsourcing is a very public process, and not necessarily one that you would consider using for your IH exposure assessments—but consider the creation of “internal crowdsourcing” among your various business units, and the concept becomes more attractive. The aggregated data can be mined for several uses such as attacking enterprise-wide financial liabilities. With all of these potential applications of HHD technologies for industrial hygienists, it’s clear that the products we carry around with us every day are changing the way we will monitor employees and their exposure to chemical and physical agents. The rate of adoption of an “HHD technology infrastructure” that includes low-cost sensors, on-board apps, linkage with compliant measurement devices, and large-scale data acquisition will profoundly change our exposure assessment methods, practices, and outcomes. ROB BRAUCH is the business unit manager for Casella CEL Inc. in Williamsville, N.Y. He is also chair of the ANSI S1 WG7 Personal Noise Dosimeter Performance Standards Committee and a member of the ASTM D22 Air Quality Committee. He can be reached at (716) 276-3040 or
From Tablet to TLV and Back Again The Impact of Consumer-driven Technology Development on Real-time Exposure Assessment By Rob Brauch