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IoT Utilization Now Practical at a Time When Safety Management is Being Re-evaluated

Increased efficiency and optimization of tasks using robots, ICT and other technologies in the workplace in manufacturing, construction and retail are moving ahead at a rapid pace. However, by being able to do the same amount of work with fewer people, the issues of ensuring worker safety and improving working environments are more pressing than ever before. If these problems are left unresolved, companies could face a variety of risks that include putting the health and lives of their workers in danger, damaging their reputation, and finding it nearly impossible to hire good talent. What should organizations do to manage workplace safety reliably and intelligently, without having to depend on human attention? This white paper introduces fundamental concepts related to safety management, and points vital to reducing the risk of work-related injuries by leveraging technology.

Personnel management, and especially “safety management” that protects employees, and creates a safe and comfortable working environment is a pressing issue for Japanese companies and organizations. The government has mandated that they allow workers periodic breaks, and it is also directing them to prohibit employees from working long hours. As a result, many companies have established rules for personnel management and are consciously enforcing them. Yet from the perspective of safety management, this is not enough.

For companies to survive against intense global competition, it is essential that they increase their efficiency in a variety of areas. For example, the manufacturing industry is doing everything possible to make the factory floor more efficient by moving ahead with robotization, allowing one employee to run a production line originally staffed by several workers.

The problem is that when the number of people in the workplace is reduced, there is the increased possibility of no one noticing trouble when it happens. Unforeseen risks could manifest if humans and robots begin working together on the production line. If companies are unable to deal with an emergency quickly, it could lead to something much more serious.

What should companies specifically do regarding safety management? Where should they start? Organizations with employees working at multiple sites, such as is seen in the manufacturing and construction industries, agonize over how they can maintain a balance between giving attention to safety management and streamlining working environments.

Neglecting Safety Management Can Negatively Impact Hiring

Even if a company spends money on safety management, there is no guarantee that it will lead to profits. This is why many managers are hesitant about it. However, if management neglects safety and an accident occurs, it will not only damage the company’s reputation, there is also the risk of it having a negative impact on performance.

It may also act as an obstacle to hiring (Fig.1). The Japanese construction industry has seen the volume of construction work increase rapidly due to repeated natural disasters and the approach of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, and this has resulted in a shortage of highly-skilled construction workers at worksites. Figuring out how to secure good workers has become a pressing issue for many companies as a result.

It is not just wages that influence a company’s ability to hire good workers. In an environment like a construction site where there is a certain amount of danger involved, a company’s attitude towards safety management is a key factor. Companies need to prove that they are looking out for their workers.

This shortage of workers is not limited to just the manufacturing and construction industries. Due to Japan’s declining birthrate and aging population, the number of highly-skilled workers overall will continue to decline. Companies can protect these valuable and experienced human resources by avoiding major accidents in the workplace, and safety management is essential to being able to provide an environment that workers can feel safe in.

Determining the Condition of Workers in Real-time

Many companies most likely check the condition of employees at morning assemblies and meetings as a part of ensuring safety in the workplace. However, this method makes it difficult to quickly ascertain and deal with a problem when it occurs.

Take the example of a single person working at a chemical plant at night who slips and hits their head. If there were some means to immediately discover that this had happened, then appropriate action could be taken, such as calling for an ambulance. Without that, no one would notice the injured worker until morning, which could lead to something more serious.

Unfortunately, this will not completely prevent dehydration or heat stroke. At factories, where workers are few and rarely move from their stations, there is the possibility no one would notice if another worker became ill.

Safety management levels will improve greatly if some sort of mechanism can be introduced that can quickly detect and respond to an unusual change in a worker’s condition. By doing so, it is almost certain that the company’s reputation for “being passionate about creating an environment friendly to workers” will grow.

However, adding more people to the workplace to improve safety goes against efficiency and streamlining efforts. This is why the utilization of ICT is drawing attention, in particular the Internet of Things (IoT), as a mechanism to watch over workers.

Leveraging Data from IoT in Safety Management

IoT refers to the creation of new services and value through things and people connecting to one another through the Internet and mutually exchanging and analyzing data.

An easy to understand example of “things” would be smartphones and smartwatches. These devices can be used to measure sleep amounts, number of steps walked, body temperature, pulse and other data, which is then used to manage a person’s health.

Fujitsu, which has a long history of developing corporate ICT systems, mobile and smartphones, is utilizing the knowhow it has cultivated in these areas to offer solutions that support safety management in factories and elsewhere. “ICT can fulfill a variety of roles in the area of safety management” says Katsuhisa Fujino, Senior Manager of Fujitsu’s IoT Business Development Division.

For example, the wristwatch and badge-type sensors that Fujitsu offers can collect information about an individual’s location (*1), the temperature and humidity of the location, and their pulse (*2). The accelerometers and gyro sensors in the devices make it possible to ascertain the person’s speed and orientation. All of this information can be collected in real-time and analyzed automatically.

Using the wristwatch-type sensors, supervisors can ascertain the condition of the worksite from the temperature and humidity data, as well as infer a worker’s heat stress (*3) and physical load levels (*4) when used together with pulse data. Supervisors can also be alerted when these levels meet certain pre-set notification conditions. The badge-type sensors can be used to infer worker task movements based on location and orientation information. This can also be utilized to detect falls and other accidents.

All the worker needs to do is wear a 23g wristband or a 35g badge. The sensors automatically transmit their data, leaving the worker free to focus on their job.

Objective Decisions Made Possible with ICT

There are many advantages to be gained by utilizing ICT in safety management. One of these is a better chance of being able to making objective decisions.

Senior Manager Fujino explains: “Worksites sometimes see a worker collapsing due to dehydration or heat stroke five minutes after a supervisor had asked them how they were feeling. IoT makes it possible to infer a worker’s heat stress and physical load levels, and alert their supervisor when those levels meet pre-set conditions. Using these as a point of reference to monitor workers enables supervisors to accurately instruct workers to take breaks, and quickly respond to an accident when it happens.”

Using IoT will also result in increased efficiency. As an example, a certain large factory has multiple locations that need to be inspected, and many of these are in dangerous locations. Until now, maintenance inspections had been carried out by two-person teams due to safety considerations. If falls and other accidents can be detected using IoT, that will allow just one worker to perform the inspections while ensuring their safety.

The ability to reuse the data gathered by the badge-type sensors for other purposes is another significant advantage of introducing IoT. Senior Manager Fujino points out that “analyzing worker movement in the workplace will cast light on areas where there is unnecessary, inefficient and irregular motion.” This means that with IoT, companies can visualize worker movement that until now could not be understood quantitatively, allowing them to create effective strategies for even greater efficiency.

These advantages of utilizing ICT will seem appealing to management as well. Money invested in improving safety management with ICT is not just a defensive cost, it is also a data gathering activity for improving business. It is important that companies understand this before they work on improving safety management.

Katsuhisa Fujino
Senior Manager
Japan Business Dept.
IoT Business Development Division
Innovative IoT Business Unit
Fujitsu Limited

*1 This feature requires installation of a beacon.
*2 Pulse: estimated by beats per minute
*3 Heat Stress Level: calculated by adding pulse data to temperature and humidity data, based on the Japanese Society of Biometeorology’s “Relationship between Wet Bulb Globe Temperature (WBGT) and environmental factors (air temperature and humidity).”
*4 Physical Load Level: infers the physical load caused by activity calculated using pulse data, based indicators such as the Karvonen Formula.

Easy Verification Testing Using the Cloud

Having spent money on creating an IoT mechanism, it takes time to achieve results, and there are risks involved in starting out on a large-scale. That is why, starting February 2017, Fujitsu will start offering a cloud-based safety-management service. With the cloud, costs are kept down, and companies only need to pay for what they have used. When results become apparent, companies can expand the scope of the service (Fig.2).

For companies who are hesitant to immediately start using the cloud, Fujitsu also offers a ‘worker monitoring pilot pack’ that allows them an easy way to try out the service. The pack includes five vital sensing bands (*5) that workers wear on their wrists, two smartphones that collect the data and send it to the cloud server, and an application, together with a cloud environment, for analyzing and visualizing the data from the sensors.

With just what is included in the pack, data regarding temperature, humidity, pulse, heat stress inference, physical load inference, steps, activity level, and fall detection can be acquired and viewed, all of which can be used in assessing workplace conditions.

Making use of these ICT solutions offered by Fujitsu is a fast way to create a safe working environment. Stringent safety management will make it easier to secure highly-skilled labor, as well as increase corporate value. It is important that management and supervisors remain conscious of this as they move ahead with making effective work environment improvements.

*5 Wristwatch-type sensor device


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