Occupational diseases are still common. Annually, approximately 4000 (former) employees die in the Netherlands and a multiple of that figure become ill as a result of being exposed to hazardous substances during their working lives. It is important to analyse this exposure in order to prevent it.
Please contact Eelco Kuijpers
New technologies and developments, such as sensors and digitalisation, make it possible to determine exposure in high resolution in time and place. We are working on a Virtual Occupational Hygiene Assistant to bring personalised and automated preventive measures within reach.
For example, early warning of unhealthy working conditions, whether or not combined with, for example, automatically switching on extractors or turning off machines. But also, for example, sustainable behavioural change among employees through new insights into the relationship between exposure and behaviour.
Sensors offer new possibilities to collect more personal data more often, making them suitable for better supported and more personalised prevention of occupational diseases. Sensors, for example, measure every 5 seconds, providing an exposure profile over the working day instead of an average value when measuring for regulatory purposes. In addition, the measurement results from sensors are immediately available digitally, enabling immediate action and automated responses. The use of new technologies therefore allows for a transition from exposure monitoring to more active exposure management.
TNO is keen to work together with stakeholders such as occupational hygienists, employees and employers, sensor developers, IT developers etc. on the development of the Virtual Occupational Hygiene Assistant to prevent occupational diseases. We are working on the following technologies or applications:
TNO often uses commercially available sensors, but when good measurement methods are lacking, we develop these ourselves. An example of this is a portable particulate sensor co-developed with Casella that is especially for the workplace and which measures the mass instead of the numbers of particles. We are also working on a method for faster and more frequent measurement of internal exposure to benzene in urine.
TNO is investigating how these new technologies can be used optimally on the shop floor. Within the international collaboration in the field of occupational hygiene, with HSE and NIOSH, we focus on the application of sensors on the shop floor and answer practical questions such as which sensor is most suitable for measuring a specific exposure, how do we determine the validity of the obtained data and what new information can we extract from all this new data.
For this application we are developing a data infrastructure for research purposes that continuously stores, visualises and analyses the collected sensor data and can feed back the obtained information directly to the employee and/or employer. Because the context is important for an exposure, we also apply other techniques (such as indoor location determination and video) to make individual behaviour more measurable and link it to the exposure pattern.
We do this in order to influence the individual behaviour in a sustainable way. In the meantime, we have applied sensors and various technologies for context to end users in the building and construction sector, transport and logistics, and bakeries.
In addition to visualising exposure across the day or directly linking an excess exposure to a warning, we also want to answer more complex exposure questions. Where do the exposures mainly take place, and under which conditions for which worker? That is why we develop models and data analysis techniques for sensor data that allow us to model exposure in both time and space.
For example, for making ''heatmaps'' that show the exposure in space. Or by developing models that can identify causes of changes in exposure during the day. We are also investigating whether sensor data can be of value in further improving current exposure models such as the Advanced REACH Tool (ART), which is mainly used to estimate time-weighted average exposures for regulatory purposes.
These models will provide a much more detailed picture of where, when and why increased exposure occurs, allowing for more targeted exposure prevention.
Sensors collect data, which often relate to people. The introduction of sensors in the workplace can therefore have an impact on ethical values, for example on health/welfare, the right to self-determination, privacy, trust, legitimacy and responsibility. During the development of these technologies we therefore involve end users at an early stage.
Specifically for the workplace, we have developed information sheets that describe how sensors can be applied and for what purposes. The information sheets show advantages and disadvantages of these applications and address possible ethical issues that may arise during the introduction of sensors in the workplace.
Our development of the Virtual Occupational Hygiene Assistant is part of the working life exposome programme where we chart all the exposures during a person’s working life and translate them into (early) health effects.