Five Reasons to Incorporate Connected Safety into Your Fall Protection Program
Incorporating connected safety into your fall protection program will further increase the chances of workers making it through their shifts safely.
- By Brendon Cook
- Mar 01, 2021
From oil & gas and petrochemical to engineering and construction, working at heights is common practice, and fall protection is an absolute necessity. When a worker is alone, the risk of this type of work is amplified and an accident can turn fatal, making it critical to identify and respond to a serious fall as soon as possible. While fall protection equipment is critical to preventing these types of accidents, many companies rely on inefficient and ineffective lone worker procedures such as spot checks and radio calls. Working as teams may provide some false confidence in early detection and response to a fall, as a crew can split up to either perform work in other locations or to retrieve tools and materials.
Adopting connected safety technology can play a pivotal role in protecting employees from the outcome of not proactively detecting a fall and the exposure risk to a worker who does not receive immediate assistance.
Before we dive into the benefits of taking a connected approach to fall protection, it’s helpful to provide a quick introduction to connected safety.
Connectivity has changed nearly every aspect of our lives—both personal and professional. Technology like smartphones, wellness trackers and networked smart homes have made instant awareness an expectation. Just as connectivity has disrupted industries like retail, travel and banking, it is changing the way we shape EHS programs and how we keep workers safe in traditionally less-responsive, highly regulated industries.
Innovation over the last several years has led to cloud-connected wearable technology that brings together previously disparate devices and processes to support a more comprehensive, holistic approach to worker safety. Through the leveraging of 4G connectivity, many of these devices enable wireless communication, location technology and automatically detect safety and health incidents. When automatically streamed to the cloud, these insights can be used to gain the real-time situational awareness needed to make quick and informed decisions, as well as increase the odds of a rescue versus a recovery during an emergency.
When it comes to fall protection, connected safety plays a critical role in detecting when an employee has experienced an accident, responding in real-time to the incident and gathering key learnings to prevent similar safety incidents in the future. Here are five key benefits of supplementing a fall protection program with a connected safety solution that makes the transition to a connected workforce an easy decision.
Fall Detection Technology
Worksites are busy places that require a balance of effort and quality with staying safe. Fall protection PPE is a crucial component of an overall program for working at heights, and it supports workers who lose their footing when something shifts, causing them to lose balance. Risk increases when working alone, as the incident may go unnoticed for an extended period of time. Failure to quickly retrieve the worker means that care for any injuries that may have been sustained before or during the fall is delayed.
Should a worker be conscious after the incident, he or she may be able to call for help with a radio or mobile phone, if available. However, this isn’t the case if the worker becomes unconscious through injury or a health event before or during the fall—even if a radio or mobile phone is accessible.
Fall detection technology within connected safety wearables that can identify the sudden acceleration of a fall exists. Technology is designed in such a way that the detection sensitivity is adjustable while also providing the worker with the option to check in and confirm that all is ok, otherwise an external team is notified. Falls can be differentiated from other work activity, and if a connected wearable is dropped, the worker can check in and confirm that all is well to avoid an alert to a live response team.
Connected technology can also provide an SOS trigger, such as a button or fool-proof latch that gives the user a way to call for help manually. Every fall situation will have different dynamics and most often, there will be a drop with a characteristic acceleration that can be detected. Fall arrest systems can then slow down the fall, bringing the worker to safe stop, avoiding further injury.
But some falls may be more complex, particularly if there are other objects involved and the work surfaces involved. A signature acceleration may not be easily identified from normal work activity and movements, potentially leading to a missed fall detection. In this situation, a worker who is conscious can call for help instantly using an SOS trigger. To accommodate an unconscious worker scenario, where he or she is unable to call for help, a periodic check-in timer can be turned on as a failsafe, automatically calling for help without a worker check-in.
Push-to-talk and Two-Way Emergency Voice Calling
An important consideration when evaluating connected safety solutions, particularly when it comes to incident detection, is team and emergency response communication. Some safety wearables feature push-to-talk (PTT) connectivity, enabling a connected safety device to operate like a walkie-talkie. This connectivity facilitates routine collaboration across teams, but can also be used if a fall incident occurs. By converging this functionality into a single device, workers have one less piece of equipment to carry and maintain. However, unlike traditional radios, PTT does not require a radio license and eliminates the need to invest in a separate, costly fleet of radios.
Some connected safety wearables also feature two-way emergency voice calling. This feature allows a live response team to speak directly with a worker who has fallen, using a built-in speakerphone that automatically answers. Two-way voice communication provides immediate situational awareness to ensure the right kind of help is delivered in the shortest amount of time.
Instrumental in providing a rapid and appropriate response to a worker who experienced a serious fall from height is knowing who was involved in the incident and where he or she is located. Connected wearables feature incident detection alongside location technology, cloud-connectivity and alerting to a life response team. Empowered by two-way voice calling and PTT, monitoring personnel can quickly assess the well-being of workers in real-time and dispatch emergency responders to the exact location of the fall. Through a prompt response, the worker is retrieved from the fall protection harness quickly, reducing the overall risk to the worker of prolonged exposure.
As more companies undergo digital transformation, connected technologies are often implemented to improve safety and operational performance, directly taking advantage of location technology. To address privacy concerns or specific policies your company may have, connected wearable devices can also be configured to report location data only when alerting a live monitoring team of an incident. Some businesses create an agreement not to use employee location data for punitive purposes and limit access to such data only through certain employee roles and under particular circumstances.
Data Science & Preventative Safety
When using cloud-connected wearable devices, data from each device can be streamed to the cloud. Data science is the process of taking the information streamed from wearable devices and applying it in different ways to gain valuable insight into where and what kind of safety incidents occur—from slips, trips and falls, injuries and gas exposures to falls from elevation.
Beyond fall protection, data helps you identify a problem using hard facts and enables worksite managers to subsequently develop a well-informed, evidence-based solution. It takes the guess work out of addressing workplace safety, allowing you to better visualize safety incidents, address them in real-time and make improvements that mitigate future events. Using analytics and visualization tools, you can identify opportunities to hit key safety objectives such as reducing incidents and near misses, improving emergency response time and eliminating safety worksite safety hazards.
Lone workers exist in nearly every industry across the world, and the current COVID-19 pandemic has only increased the number of lone workers through reduced staffing levels and split shifts. While fall protection equipment is, and will remain, the first line of defense to prevent falls from height, connected safety solutions become critical when a serious fall does occur. It provides workers and managers with the peace of mind that help is on the way in the event of an emergency and supports a safer, more efficient workplace where all workers make it home safe at the end of each day.
This article originally appeared in the March 2021 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.