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Measure and Prevent Heat Illness with Wearables

Last month, we covered the key elements from several state-specific heat illness standards that contractors can use to protect outdoor workers:

  • Provide water, rest and shade
  • Allow workers time to acclimatize to the heat
  • Plan and implement high-heat procedures
  • Have a written heat illness prevention plan that includes worker training and emergency response when heat-related illnesses occur
LHSFNA Management
David F. Rampone

Within these state standards, one area that comes up frequently is monitoring workers for the signs of heat illness. Monitoring can be done by a trained supervisor, a mandatory buddy system or other means. One alternate option is the use of wearable technology to augment the monitoring process. Depending on the product, wearables have the ability to deliver valuable information about workers’ health, including their risk for heat illness.

“Construction employers have more resources and information at their disposal than ever to successfully protect workers from heat illness,” says LHSFNA Management Co-Chairman David F. Rampone. “Employers interested in investing in wearables should start by involving workers in the process and building trust that any data gathered will only be used to keep them safe.”

Earlier this year, Ryan Papariello, the OSH Division’s Safety & Health Specialist, sat down with Kyle Hubregtse, CEO at Kenzen, and Dr. Emanuele Cauda, Director of the NIOSH Center for Direct Reading and Sensor Technologies, to discuss the future of wearable technology in the construction industry. The clips below touch on several important aspects of using wearable technology as a tool to address heat illness.

Measure More Accurately with Wearables

Many physiological signs of heat stress – increasing heart rate, skin temperature and core body temperature – can be measured with wearable technology. One advantage of measuring heat stress this way is that people can respond differently to the same outdoor temperature or workload. Wearables can give an individualized measurement of each worker’s response and their corresponding heat illness risk.

Physical and Cognitive Signs of Heat Illness

Wearables can also help assess heat illness risk even when the outdoor temperature isn’t high enough to trigger more protective high-heat measures. For example, workers wearing impermeable clothing, such as chemical protective suits, could be affected by heat stress even in relatively cooler temperatures.

Heat stress can lead to both physical and cognitive impacts. Heat-related symptoms that affect workers’ performance and safety on the job can include heat cramps, impaired judgment or confusion, dizziness and a lack of coordination.

Achieving Worker Buy-in for Wearables

While wearable technology can help employers measure the impacts of heat, it’s also essential that workers are involved in the process. Workers need to trust that the data being collected is used to protect them, not against them or to track their performance. Being clear about what will be tracked and the purpose of that tracking can help significantly with worker buy-in and ultimately make or break whether wearables are a worthwhile investment.

Click here to watch the Fund’s entire vodcast episode on wearables in the construction industry on our YouTube channel. For more information, LIUNA signatory contractors and other LIUNA affiliates can browse and order publications on heat illness from the Outdoor Hazards section of our Publications Catalogue.

[Nick Fox]

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