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Real-time people data from "wearables" - an integrated safety system

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Wearables Technologies has developed a software platform to make it easier to handle 'wearables' data in an integrated way - such gas, noise and proximity sensors worn by offshore workers.

Wearable Technologies Ltd (WTL) of Leicester, UK, has developed a software platform to make it easier for oil and gas companies to handle 'wearables' data from their global workforce in an integrated way - such as data from noise, gas and proximity sensors, and people's location.

It is common for offshore workers to carry safety sensors, such as gas detectors, as they work. But until now, this data has only been used in a limited way, to inform the worker themselves, but not the control room.

CEO Mark Bernstein had the idea for the technology after a visit to an oil refinery, where he saw staff carrying portable gas sensors, which could alert the worker to gas, but did not alert co-workers, and didn't alert the control room.

Meanwhile staff in the control room were monitoring equipment but weren't monitoring people. If there was any safety incident, they would not know exactly where people were or their status.

Mr Bernstein's idea was that data about individuals, their location, and the gases they are exposed to, would be managed in an integrated way.

This is similar to the systems which have already been developed to track physical objects in an integrated way.

Coming from a technology background, Mr Bernstein thought it should be a cloud-based wearables 'platform', which could gather together data from the various wearable sensors, rather than a specific product.

The technology development was co-funded by BP and is being sold into oil and gas, construction and utilities industries.

There is a question of whether staff will be comfortable being continually monitored and tracked in this way. They should do, so long as they see that it provides a benefit to them, not just the company, Mr Bernstein says. A similar example is the introduction of tachographs in trucks, keeping a record of speed and over time, which were disliked by drivers when first introduced. But now, 'tachographs have become the drivers' friend. They prevent unscrupulous employers forcing them to do longer hours. So, this technology can be a force for good,' he says.

One common people data platform for North Sea

The company has had a trial running in Aberdeen supported by the Oil and Gas Technology Centre (OGTC), following a May 2018 workshop about 'how to make the connected worker a reality' in oil and gas.

The workshop concluded that there 'needed to be a common data platform across the industry - that all the oil and gas majors could use, their supply chain, their subcontractors on rigs,' he said.

OGTC has funded WTL to upgrade its existing data platform, 'So that it could be the standard data platform used across oil and gas in the North Sea.'

Partners involved include BP, Wood Group, Stork, device manufacturer Draeger, and communications supplier Tampnet.

The OGTC funding will cover the cost of developing ATEX certified hardware (which does not give off any spark which could ignite gas). It will also improve the software platform to make it sufficiently scaleable, reliable and secure that it can be easily integrated into large IT systems.

The technology is being pilot tested on a number of oil and gas sites, both onshore and offshore. The data platform is built upon open standards, enabling any other company to integrate their products into it.

How it works

To explain how it works in more detail - offshore workers typically carry a number of devices, monitoring their location (GPS), their exposure to noise and gas and, in some cases, their proximity to moving equipment such as cranes, forklifts and vehicles. They also carry radio communications.

By integrating this data in an automated way and communicating it back to a control centre, supervisors and the control room could be immediately notified if the person is at risk. A real-time holistic picture is also created showing the short term and long term risks each worker has been exposed to, during a shift or even during a whole year.

The WTL technology involves a wearable hub device attached to the worker's clothing which receives, analyses and integrates the data wirelessly from multiple sensing devices carried by the worker. This data is transmitted, including the person's identification where relevant, by the hub device to a company server or cloud system via cellular communication. Workers are identified to the hub using a unique card or ID number, eliminating the risk of data being associated with the wrong person.

The wearable hub also provides power to devices, such as lights embedded in smart PPE garments, where necessary.

If workers are indoors and out of the range of GPS, companies can install Bluetooth beacons on the ground, which enable the system to track when a worker comes in close proximity to them.

The system can also be used to monitor who is on site and where they are.

Mark Bernstein, CEO, has a technology start-up background, with a list of past projects including in virtual reality, a big social network sold to Yahoo, a computer games business which was floated in the UK, and a mobile payments business. He has also been involved in hardware and smart garments projects.

The system is device agnostic - designed to make it possible for customers to add other sensors as and when they choose to, including sensors they already have. This avoids the need for multiple dashboards for each different type of sensor - data from any number of different sensors can be integrated and displayed on a single dashboard.

Having all the data in one place, integrated together in a standard 'data set', makes it easier to do further analytics to get more insights into the overall level of risk different workers have been subjected to, or compare working environments.

Mr Bernstein sees the 'connected worker' as a step following the 'connected home' and 'connected factory', with multiple devices bringing information together.

The company believes it may be serving a $10bn market in the connected worker space, with very few companies in it.

Further uses

The system can be expanded to include many other devices, such as sensors to monitor heartbeat, respiration and heat stress, or even posture, since 'back pain is the biggest cause of days off.'

The system can send emergency alerts, both to the worker and to the supervisor, if anyone is exposed to gas or noise levels which are dangerously high. 'We can monitor the actual noise environment for each worker for months, build up a good long-term occupational health picture.

The data can be used in any legal cases, for example if there is a claim that an employee has damaged hearing due to sustained exposure to high levels of noise. 'It is quite difficult to defend if you don't have actual data from that actual employee,' he says.

It may be possible to use data analytics, to identify which workers are being placed under the highest levels of risk and from what, which could be useful to insurance companies.

'A customer can decide what they want to monitor,' he says. 'If a sensor exists, we can integrate it.

Our solution is really an integration and communications platform that sits on top of all those devices.'

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