The internet of things is already being used to drive cost savings and improve efficiencies across industries including waste and water management, green building, farming and oil and gas. Now connected devices are coming to environment, health and safety.
These include smart sensors and other equipment used to collect and monitor EHS data, for example. And they’re increasingly including EHS mobile apps and wearable devices, according to analysts.
“The best way to think about the internet of things in relation to EHS is in two ways: data capture and inputs, and then data outputs,” says Verdantix CEO David Metcalfe.
Data inputs are especially used to provide usage scenarios in environmental management, Metcalfe says. These include sensors, used in emissions monitoring, for example, and they’re becoming smarter in terms of the data they can collect and how they connect to the Internet.
Expect smart sensors that capture data to be used more in water management, Metcalfe says: “As water becomes an increasingly scarce resource, you’ll see more need for monitoring water in the natural environment as opposed to water meters.”
Another area that’s seeing more development is geographic information systems using grid-based data collections, Metcalfe says. Collected data using grids is less time consuming than collecting data manually. This can be especially useful in EHS scenarios such as a chemical spill, where an immediate cleanup response is needed. “You can see the areas where the chemicals have spilled. The grid as a visual is an emerging way of doing this,” Metcalfe says.
On the other end of the IoT/EHS spectrum from data inputs is data outputs. Data outputs involve using connected devices to improve EHS management and includes technologies such as wearable devices and mobile apps — think: using a mobile device to scan a barcode from a chemical container, thus enabling an audit of chemical inventory and that can be transferred to a safety data sheet.
The internet of things will make wearable technology a must-have tool for EHS management, according to an LNS Research blog. Whether used to monitor employee heart rates, unsafe sound levels or air quality, for example, “wearable tech is poised to directly impact the workplace from an EHS perspective. After all, this is where wearables bear the greatest potential to improve the most important aspects of our collective well-being: the health of individual workers, the mitigation of safety hazards, and the reduction of harmful environmental impacts.”
Honeywell Connected Worker
Earlier this month Honeywell and Intel showcased a prototype of a personal connected safety solution for industrial workers and first responders that aims to reduce workplace injury and improve productivity.
The Honeywell Connected Worker solution includes a Mobile Hub that collects and provides sensor fusion, which refers to data collected from a variety of sensors on a worker. The Mobile Hub pulls data from a self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA), a heart rate monitor, and several Intel Quark SE microcontroller based devices, including a toxic gas monitor, an activity detection device, and a non-verbal gesture device.
It monitors workers for toxic gas exposure, breathing, heart rate, posture and motion. The resulting data and actionable intelligence is displayed remotely on a visual, cloud-based dashboard, giving plant managers and incident commanders the information needed to better anticipate unsafe conditions and prevent potential “man-down” scenarios that could threaten worker safety, Honeywell says.
In addition, the data can be used to prevent equipment failure that could create unsafe conditions or costly downtime.
EHS Spending on the Rise
As connected devices become more commonly used in EHS management, expect spending to follow suit.
Verdantix’s global EHS spending forecast, published last week, found 10 percent of firms will increase spending in 2016 by double digits and 21 percent will spend between 5 percent and 9 percent more next year. Three quarters of respondents expect budgets to increase in 2016, which is an increase from 62 percent who increased spend in 2015.
The global research firm is currently wrapping up its EHS Green Quadrant study, Metcalfe says, and it found mobile apps are the next big thing. “In 2016, having an effective mobile app for EHS management is a must-have,” he says. “Eighty percent of leading EHS vendors have already developed something.”
Barriers to Adoption
Barriers to adoption remain, Metcalfe says. These include cyber security regulations and internal IT regulations that may not allow mobile devices in restricted areas. Additionally, for employees to use mobile EHS apps, they must be designed in such a way that employees who are used to operating big machinery, for example, can interface with the app effectively.
As Metcalfe says, “There’s great promise in how to leverage IoT architecture for ESH but we’re right at the beginning of the 20 year learning curve.”
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