customer experiences

Managing workplace risks with sensors

2 November 2018 • 4 min reading time

A lack of knowledge or carefulness often results in people in the workplace being unnecessarily exposed to hazardous substances or loud noises. Accenture and TNO have jointly developed a system to further promote health and safety for those working in industry. Sensors in clothing, helmets or special glasses perform constant measurements and the employee or health & safety manager receives a warning when situations become unsafe, together with advice on keeping the concentration of a substance or the noise level as low as possible – all in real time.

Previously, Accenture developed the concept of the ‘Connected Worker’ for industrial companies. For instance, to receive instructions or expert support, employees are permanently connected to systems at work via smartwatches, smartphones or tablets. The entire working environment has been digitised and a smart system makes it possible to provide the employee with assignments, instructions, route planning or whatever they need to work more effectively and efficiently.

“TNO is now augmenting this product with the development and application for safe and healthy working using sensor technology and fast, wireless data communication,” says Menne Bos of Accenture.

A new generation of sensors

Sensors are already commercially available that have a useful role on the work floor. TNO has been working on the development and application of a new generation of wearable sensors to measure concentrations of hazardous substances in the air. However, more information is needed to interpret the measured concentrations to which workers are exposed. The measurement data must be transferred quickly and safely to a system in which everything is calculated, analysed and fed straight back to the users. Only then is it possible to intervene directly in risky situations. In creating such a system, TNO combines expertise in big data, mathematical models, working conditions, chemistry, the environment and human behaviour.

“For example, an employee receives an alarm on their smartwatch if it detects danger. This could be in the form of concrete advice to leave the area or to keep more of a distance”

Continuous and in real-time

Measuring data on workplace exposure to hazardous substances is usually time-consuming, limited and only provides information afterwards about the possible dangers. The collaboration between Accenture and TNO focuses on constant measurement via personal sensors in real time. For example, data goes to a cloud platform where it is analysed so that, if a threat is detected, the employee receives an alarm on their smartwatch. This can be in the form of concrete advice to leave the area, to keep more of a distance, take protective measures or another instruction. Ultimately that advice must be fed back to the person within a matter of milliseconds. Communication between the sensor and the underlying systems runs via WiFi, 4G or, in the near future, 5G.

Taking action

“In addition to sensor technology, we also provide expertise in modelling,” says Fred Hartendorf, Business Developer at TNO. “Measurement data from sensors does not say much in itself. You have to be able to interpret it to take the right measures. We are working on computer models that process the data by linking it to meteorological data such as temperature, wind speed and wind direction as well as to information about the location and actions the person takes. If the sensors measure an excessive concentration of a certain substance, we can predict how it will spread in the immediate vicinity. We may also be able to say something about the source or action from which it derives. This offers a course of action for those involved - perhaps evacuation, protective measures or modification of work procedures.”

“If the sensors measure an excessive concentration of a certain substance, we can predict how it will spread in the immediate vicinity”

Stricter rules

Companies where hazardous substances or noise can be a risk for employees are found in the construction, petrochemical, offshore, energy, mining and other industrial sectors. TNO and Accenture were the first to develop a use case for the mining industry, which is increasingly subject to stricter rules worldwide. It shows, among other things, the reality of the risks associated with hazardous substances and noise and what consequences they may have for employees. Also, the use case gives an indication of the number of cases of illness. For example, more than ten percent of miners develop a disease after due to exposure to substances. TNO's previous figures already showed that around 3,000 people die every year in the Netherlands from work-related cancer. The figure for the EU as a whole is 80,000.

A wealth of information

The main purpose of the new system is to act directly, but the collection and analysis of large amounts of data is an important secondary element. Companies can use the data to improve the design of their workplace, the work procedures used and thereby the performance of their employees. By collecting and analysing measurement data on a large scale, a wealth of information is created; this can be of benefit to businesses, health services and policy makers by enabling them to take more targeted preventive measures in the future. The next step is to be able to predict risks and dangers in the working environment.

“The large-scale collection and analysis of measurement data also provides a wealth of information for businesses, health services and policy makers”

“By combining our Connected Worker with the scientific knowledge of TNO, we offer a complete solution in the field of health and safety at work. One solution, consisting of industrial sensors, a cloud platform, health models, dispersion data models and human behaviour, produces a system that is unprecedented. Through this, TNO and Accenture jointly contribute to safe and healthy workplaces: with benefits for the employee, the company and society as a whole,” concludes Menne Bos.

More information?

Would you like to know more about the use case TNO and Accenture developed or about the possibilities of personal sensor technology? Please contact Fred Hartendorf.

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