Smart wearables trialled for water worker safety

Tuesday, 13 September, 2022 | Supplied by: University of South Australia

Smart wearables trialled for water worker safety

Wristband sensors, smart shirts and other devices are being trialled by SA Water’s field-based staff.

Taking part in a pilot study by researchers from the University of South Australia, 15 staff members from SA Water’s Kadina Depot and Trade Waste and water sampling teams will don these smart wearable devices to capture physiological data in the field.

This in turn will identify opportunities for early detection and intervention on potential safety issues, and demonstrate how technology can lead to greater health and wellbeing outcomes.

SA Water’s General Manager of People and Safety, Kylie Johnson, said the safety initiative could have broad application across its state-wide workforce.

“With a vast water network, our people are often performing challenging physical tasks in a range of weather conditions and our trial will explore how technology can improve their health and wellbeing,” she said.

“Working together with the University of South Australia, our people will undertake specific work activities, such as driving prolonged distances and pipe maintenance to explore how their bodies respond, measure their vital signs and monitor the effect of heat, fatigue and sleep.

“Excitingly, the wearable devices provide the opportunity to capture mental and physical wellbeing insights we haven’t been able to in the past.

“For example, the wristband sensors our Kadina team are wearing can quantify sleep deprivation and the resulting effect on alertness, focus and mental health.

“Biometric smart shirts with sensors embedded in the textiles monitor the cardiac and respiratory system to capture greater knowledge about physical strain.

“All of these collective insights can lead to improved situational awareness and allow certain work activities to be altered, postponed or optimised, creating better safety outcomes for our people.

“The idea to trial these devices was conceived by our own people, who over the years have seen the success of proactive measures in preventing harm during some of their daily tasks.”

The data and learnings captured by the University of South Australia will be used by SA Water to assess the feasibility of adopting each device and help the utility understand which teams could gain value from their use on an ongoing basis.

The project’s lead, UniSA Research Professor Jill Dorrian — an expert in occupational safety, fatigue and sleep — said findings from the study could set a new precedent for proactive safety practices.

“Our research continues to find that issues such as fatigue and sleep are prevalent across industries and can often increase the risk of workplace incidents, but our trial could open the door for the use of innovative technologies that support an even more proactive approach to safety and wellbeing,” Dorrian said.

“Literature from researchers overseas demonstrates the use of wearable devices can increase employee satisfaction, while providing early detection and intervention for improved decision-making around how physical tasks are performed or managing individual workload to avoid burnout.”

Image courtesy of the University of South Australia.

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