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What is Smart PPE? The Future of Worker Safety

If you own a smart watch or FitBit, you already know that "smart" technology can provide powerful insights into your health and performance. 

Now, smart technology is being integrated into personal protective equipment (PPE) in order to reduce costs, prevent injuries, and improve worker productivity.

There's no doubt that more smart PPE and wearable devices will be popping up this year. 

But let's take a step back. You might have never seen a smart helmet before. You might not know what smart PPE is, or why it matters.

We’re here to answer all your questions about these new gadgets. 

What is smart PPE?

Smart PPE, or smart wearable systems, refers to PPE that connects to the internet and other devices like software or tablets to deliver real-time safety information. You can think of it as PPE that not only minimizes exposure to hazards, but also collects data, sends notifications, and automatically adjusts to internal and external conditions. 

What can smart PPE do?

With smart PPE, the possibilities are endless. Here are just a few examples of potential applications: 

  • Smart communication devices like helmets, ear muffs, and face masks can aid communication in loud or low-visibility environments
  • Smart cooling and heating elements can respond to body and external temperatures to keep the wearer safe
  • Active PPE like smart lockout/tagout and laser-enabled emergency stop devices can prevent equipment related injuries
  • Light-emitting garments like safety vests can provide high visibility
  • Environmental sensors embedded in clothing can monitor gas, chemical, heat, sound, UV, impact, etc. and alert supervisors if workers are in trouble

How does it work?

Most smart PPE connects to other devices via Bluetooth. Through this connection, the PPE can provide real-time alerts and gather data. 

In many cases, smart PPE devices can be connected to an EHS software solution like Perillon to make data collection and analysis even easier. 

Who's using smart PPE?

The smart PPE trend has already caught on in industries like mining, oil and gas, manufacturing, and transportation.

For example, smart location devices are popping up in the mining industry to keep tabs on miners' locations. Gas masks with thermal cameras are helping protect firefighters. And fatigue monitors are detecting 'micro-sleeps' before drowsy driving puts drivers at risk. 

The applications for this type of technology are promising. But like any new technology, the adoption of smart PPE has been fraught with challenges. 

What are some of the downsides of smart PPE?

With all new technology, there's a steep learning curve. But when a miner or firefighter's life depends on a smart wearable device, it needs to work properly every time. Unfortunately, there are no current minimum requirements for device performance, so backup may be necessary.

There's also the issue of keeping sensitive personal information secure. And right now, the price of smart PPE devices is prohibitive for many smaller companies.

However, as these technologies become more mainstream, we can anticipate that many of these problems will be solved. 

What is the future of smart PPE?

Developments in smart PPE are promising. Smart helmets, hearing protection, environmental monitoring garments, and light-emitting high-visibility vests have the potential to reduce costs, prevent injuries, and improve worker productivity.

Whether or not smart PPE is widely adopted depends on corporate consumers. But one thing is for sure: EHS technology is always evolving, and it's important to keep up. 

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