In this age of optimizing resources and expanding roles, occupational health and safety professionals are often asked to wear an ever-increasing number of hats. Our growing responsibilities make it difficult for us to be fully aware of occupational health and safety programs’ effectiveness. Whether we need to track a single hazard or multiple hazards, maintaining awareness of the effectiveness of worker protection is one of our primary goals.

The emergence of wearable sensor technology integrated into personal protective equipment can help workers take more responsibility for their health and safety. This technology can also enhance existing safety program policies, practices, and procedures. As sensor technology advances and becomes more affordable, the integration of wearable sensors into PPE offers an opportunity to enhance capabilities for protecting workers and gives OHS professionals new tools for keeping pace with changing paradigms of worker protection. 
I SENSE A TREMOR IN THE FORCE A real shakeup is on the horizon for the use of sensors with PPE. Sensor technology is rapidly advancing: sensors are becoming smaller, while connectivity options and data storage capabilities are increasing. Wearable sensors are being integrated into many aspects of our lives, including the workplace. It is natural that this growth would reach OHS, particularly via PPE.  While sensors have been present for some time in OHS—in portable detection instruments, for example—the opportunity to align sensors as wearable instruments, attuned to both the workers and their protective equipment, opens many possibilities. The ability to sense critical variables, such as temperature, movement, noise levels, and other environmental or physiological conditions, makes PPE an appealing platform for applying sensor technology. Some of these capabilities already exist in PPE; others are  emerging. The current challenge for PPE manufacturers is in packaging the desired combination of sensor capabilities along with the power source to run them. But these capabilities are on the horizon and quickly approaching.  CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF DATA With the advent of cloud computing and cloud storage, a whole new world has emerged.  Information systems use data, hardware and software components, networks, people, and procedures. Cloud computing is a prevalent means of using information systems remotely through Internet service providers, or even through on-premise architecture instead of across the Web. These technological concepts have come to be known as the “Internet of Things.” The IoT is often described as ecosystems comprising multiple “edge devices” (devices that collect data and perform their own computing). In IoT ecosystems, edge devices are connected, conveying data up to the cloud for further analysis, use, or consumption. Integrating sensor technology into PPE requires the collaboration of groups that haven’t worked together before. OHS professionals, PPE manufacturers, and software developers must converge to determine key needs and capabilities. Such collaboration will facilitate the development and rapid iteration of the features and enhancements desired by users.  Data generated by sensor-integrated PPE (SIPPE) systems could produce a renaissance of information about the use and function of PPE and help advance capabilities in identifying workplace risks. Better risk identification could help unlock new proactive approaches to OHS and reduce the reactive portions of our jobs. Historically, understanding PPE use and performance in the workplace has required sophisticated, expensive, and time-consuming research studies. Information about workplace PPE use was often nebulous, nonexistent, or rudimentary, captured through observation or from wearers’ reports of their experiences and documented via paper records or spreadsheets. Implementing SIPPE IoT systems can generate structured datasets for organizing, analyzing, and presenting insights or other useful information. These data can improve our understanding of worker protection, compliance status, PPE maintenance requirements, and consumables replacement (for example, respirator cartridges or filters, batteries), and identify opportunities for increased efficiencies and time savings. The future looks bright for the OHS profession as this new world of SIPPE readies itself for introduction into worker protection.  THE TRADITIONALIST AND THE FUTURIST The hierarchy of controls has existed since Alice Hamilton was crisscrossing the world discovering industrial hygiene. This hierarchy—which identifies PPE as the least effective of workplace controls, after elimination, substitution, engineering controls, and administrative controls—has been widely accepted within the IH community, pretty much without question. But what if the paradigm changed? What if there was a way to make PPE even more effective? PPE would not eliminate the hazard, but if sensor technology could enhance PPE’s capabilities, then it could become a more valuable option for controlling hazards.  The generation and analysis of data from sensors results in better information that can enhance decision- making. The presence of sensors in PPE does not necessarily improve performance, but it can provide information about PPE usage and performance that would otherwise remain unknown. If the sensing technology can track key performance indicators and provide feedback to the user or administrator, it can increase workers’ confidence in both the PPE and the OHS professional responsible for the overall workplace protection program. Furthermore, the information from sensors can help validate protection and compliance, perform required or routine maintenance, and provide insights for training to advance the overall effectiveness of the PPE program. Acceptance of this new technology will likely follow the “technology adoption curve,” which depicts the adoption or acceptance of innovations over time (see Figure 1). The communication theorist Everett Rogers originally developed the ideas associated with the technology adoption curve. In his book Diffusion of Innovations, Rogers writes, “People tend to adopt new technologies at varying rates. Their relative speed of adoption can be plotted as a normal distribution, with the primary differentiator being individuals’ psychological disposition to new ideas.” The technology adoption curve can provide some insight into the introduction and adoption of wearable sensors in PPE. Currently, early adopters are clamoring for SIPPE systems, while the early and late majorities might be just dipping their toes in the water. 
Figure 1. The technology adoption curve, as described by Everett Rogers in Diffusion of Innovations.
Tap on the figure to open a larger version in your browser.
IMPLEMENTING LIKE A PRO As you wade into SIPPE systems, there are several considerations to keep in mind to access their full potential for your organization. With the growth of IoT in OHS, the user interface and user experience (UI/UX) become important to successful implementation and operation of SIPPE. The UI/UX allows use of hardware, firmware, and software to shape complex computing into a form that the users (both PPE wearers as well as OHS professionals) can effectively execute and understand. The UI/UX can make or break acceptance of SIPPE by wearers and users. Even beneficial technologies will likely be ineffective if they’re too hard to use or understand.  Another buzzword you’ve heard before—and one you might hear when you implement SIPPE—is “Big Brother.” It’s important to understand and communicate how a SIPPE system benefits your wearers. Give some thought to how the data a SIPPE system can provide helps you achieve your OHS program goals. Make clear to wearers that the SIPPE system isn’t intended simply for monitoring purposes—it helps achieve OHS goals and promotes worker health and safety. For example, a system may provide wearers with additional situational awareness of potential risks or feedback on how wearers’ practices impact their PPE’s potential effectiveness.  Concerns regarding personal health information and data privacy will need to be addressed—for example, by complying with local data privacy regulations and by providing education and training to system users. But security concerns should not be a deterrent if the ultimate outcome is enhanced worker protection. SIPPE solutions should be architected to adhere to and follow such regulatory requirements. Two stringent examples of regulations written explicitly to help protect data and privacy rights are the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) in the United States and the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in Europe. SIPPE solutions that inherently meet regulatory requirements and incorporate necessary design factors to remain within compliance are poised to help keep companies’ and users’ data and privacy rights protected.  Information security is critical to help protect data and privacy from malicious actors. Information security can be considered a combination of administrative controls, physical security, and technical methodologies that work toward a common goal: maintaining data confidentiality, integrity, and availability. These concepts are analogous to industrial hygiene’s hierarchy of controls, except they revolve around protecting data and information from unauthorized access. Applying the principles of the hierarchy of controls to information security will help mitigate risk and protect sensitive information in the same way that the hierarchy helps protect worker health and safety.  Administrative controls applied to information security involve continuous education and training on how to handle sensitive information appropriately and identify social engineering, phishing attempts, e-mails containing potentially malicious content, and so on. Hardware resources should be kept behind locked doors. Controls such as the use of security officials who monitor and audit access should be implemented to prevent intruders or unauthorized personnel from obtaining sensitive information. Other controls include restricting user access based on their roles in the organization, granting access only to the resources needed to complete a task, network security appliances (such as firewalls and proxy servers), and adequate protocols for authentication and encryption. These common industry practices help safeguard data and privacy.  Data privacy and security are a direct byproduct of implementing practices to help protect sensitive information from unauthorized access. Organizations should consider vendors who follow industry-standard practices and procedures to help protect data, privacy, and security.  WHAT’S NEXT? The opportunity to capitalize on the wave of IoT expansion and apply new sensor technology to PPE is intriguing. But beyond that, what benefits can we expect? Perhaps we can look forward to improved awareness of the work environment—to knowing the status of several physical and environmental conditions, and to be alerted when these variables change. We may also have an opportunity to reinforce PPE usage by confirming that it is performing as intended. In addition, as sensors provide feedback to users on key performance indicators, their confidence in PPE will rise—and perhaps other benefits will be discovered.   DAVID STEIN, CIH, is senior technical service specialist with 3M Personal Safety Division in Maplewood, Minn. He has 36 years of experience in industrial hygiene and is currently working on new technologies to advance worker protection and long-term health. SHANE HAINEY, BSEE, MSIS, is an application engineer with 3M Personal Safety Division in Maplewood, Minn. Over the past eight years, Shane has focused on implementing and supporting various technology platforms. Send feedback to The Synergist.

The Future is Here—Introduce Yourself
Making Sense of Sensors in PPE
Although the print version of The Synergist indicated The IAQ Investigator's Guide, 3rd edition, was already published, it isn't quite ready yet. We will be sure to let readers know when the Guide is available for purchase in the AIHA Marketplace.
My apologies for the error.
- Ed Rutkowski, Synergist editor
Disadvantages of being unacclimatized:
  • Readily show signs of heat stress when exposed to hot environments.
  • Difficulty replacing all of the water lost in sweat.
  • Failure to replace the water lost will slow or prevent acclimatization.
Benefits of acclimatization:
  • Increased sweating efficiency (earlier onset of sweating, greater sweat production, and reduced electrolyte loss in sweat).
  • Stabilization of the circulation.
  • Work is performed with lower core temperature and heart rate.
  • Increased skin blood flow at a given core temperature.
Acclimatization plan:
  • Gradually increase exposure time in hot environmental conditions over a period of 7 to 14 days.
  • For new workers, the schedule should be no more than 20% of the usual duration of work in the hot environment on day 1 and a no more than 20% increase on each additional day.
  • For workers who have had previous experience with the job, the acclimatization regimen should be no more than 50% of the usual duration of work in the hot environment on day 1, 60% on day 2, 80% on day 3, and 100% on day 4.
  • The time required for non–physically fit individuals to develop acclimatization is about 50% greater than for the physically fit.
Level of acclimatization:
  • Relative to the initial level of physical fitness and the total heat stress experienced by the individual.
Maintaining acclimatization:
  • Can be maintained for a few days of non-heat exposure.
  • Absence from work in the heat for a week or more results in a significant loss in the beneficial adaptations leading to an increase likelihood of acute dehydration, illness, or fatigue.
  • Can be regained in 2 to 3 days upon return to a hot job.
  • Appears to be better maintained by those who are physically fit.
  • Seasonal shifts in temperatures may result in difficulties.
  • Working in hot, humid environments provides adaptive benefits that also apply in hot, desert environments, and vice versa.
  • Air conditioning will not affect acclimatization.
Acclimatization in Workers