President Biden recently tasked the Occupational Safety and Health Administration with developing new rules for heat safety among workers, calling attention to an ongoing problem that is only projected to get worse with a warming climate.
This means workers who labor outside, such as construction workers, industrial workers or any who face potentially harmful temperatures. And that includes first responders, who know all too well the dangers of becoming overheated, especially firefighters.
Firefighters routinely risk their lives entering dangerously hot environs with no way of knowing when to stop and cool off. The firefighting industry has been teased by technology, such as wearable heat sensors, but few departments across the nation have them. The technology is now available, and at least one company is marketing sensors it says fit the needs of firefighters.
Kenzen makes wearable devices that monitor core body temperature and can alert both the worker and a supervisor if that temperature begins to reach a danger zone. The device has been tested thoroughly and has been used by firefighter training schools, as well as major oil and gas companies working with training crews.
Curt Floyd, retired deputy fire chief and now first responder technical lead for the National Fire Protection Association, said this type of device would be beneficial to today’s firefighter.
“Typically we do not monitor our own body heat other than through normal human awareness, which often is late to indicate that we may have a problem,” Floyd said. “At large or long-duration events, Incident Command will have a rehabilitation group set up to monitor firefighters once they exit the host zone.”
Floyd said the firefighters are monitored in several ways, including by body temp to prevent a medical condition from heat exposure. “If a firefighter had a device that they could easily read that tells them their body temp is increasing to dangerous levels, they would be more apt to take actions to prevent a medical event,” he said.
He said the biggest challenge would be the change in culture. “Firefighters are action-oriented and driven individuals, who when given a mission to search for possible trapped victims, they push their bodies and many personal warning signs aside to accomplish that mission.”
Heidi Lehmann, who founded Kenzen, acknowledged that “band of brothers” mentality and said the ability for a supervisor to monitor workers, and also monitor conditions as a whole through a dashboard, could help break down that culture of not wanting to opt out and take a break when fellow firefighters are in the battle.
“They don’t want to be the one person sitting down in the shade if everyone else is working,” Lehmann said. “So the safety manager also looks at the team to see if an alert has been ignored or if somebody is ready to go back to work so they can intervene.”
Lehmann described the device as being at the intersection of workforce safety technology and heat science and climate tech. It’s physiology based, with the front end of the platform worn on the worker’s upper arm. It samples the worker’s physiology about every five seconds and collects tens of thousands of data points per work, per shift. That data translates into a message to the supervisor about the risk the worker is undergoing.
“The main measurement we’re looking for is core body temperature and then sweat rate,” Lehmann said. It’s accurate to within a 0.2 percent range of predicting core body temperature.
Lehmann founded Kenzen in 2016 and began commercially deploying the devices in 2020. In between there was a lot of research and development being done both in and out of the United States, including with sport teams such as the San Francisco 49ers. There are about a thousand of the devices around the globe, with the biggest verticals being construction and mining.
Last year, a record-breaking year for temperatures on Earth, there were more than 200 million Americans under heat advisories. With every 10 degree Fahrenheit temperature increase, causing a 393 percent increase in hospitalizations for heat exposure.
Record-breaking temperatures in 2021 led to increased worker deaths, from produce pickers to construction crews and garbage collectors. In 2022, tech entrepreneurs have addressed the issue by finding innovative ways to track and prevent the dangers of heat on the body. Heidi Lehmann, a tech entrepreneur whose latest venture Kenzen produces a wearable device that monitors workers’ physiology to predict and prevent heat injuries and deaths, said that progressive employers are already incorporating technology that can track worker wellness. Kenzen has equipped first responders, miners and workers in the construction, energy, steel and manufacturing sectors with sensors that continuously monitor their physiology to assess core body temperature, sweat rate and exertion. Lehmann welcomes legislation that will mandate the care needed for overheated bodies — such as breaks, water and cooling techniques — yet warns that standards should not be ‘one-size-fits-all’. Biological sex, fitness, age, acclimatisation and other individual factors can dictate what each worker needs to stay safe and productive.
“Heat monitoring is key to achieving ‘Total Worker Health.’ Every person has a different threshold for being able to withstand hot temperatures and hot work. Across-the-board mandates will not curb the alarming statistics. Advanced technology for a personalised approach needs to be part of the solution,” Lehmann said.
Kenzen sensors gather thousands of data points per worker per shift. Through research and validation with universities and use of its system by more than 50 companies, Kenzen has amassed a large dataset of continuous core body temperature. The Kenzen device warns workers, via haptic vibration, when their physiology indicates danger of heat stress. Managers get an alert via an app when a worker needs an intervention to stay safe. A second alert indicates when the worker’s body is ready to resume work. Corporate safety leaders can use the analytics dashboard to make enterprise-wide decisions to minimise heat risks, reduce injuries and improve productivity. They may also adjust work schedules or assign certain tasks to individuals. Throughout the process, personal data is protected, as only workers can view their health information while others only see what is necessary to keep workers safe. “Worker heat health is at the forefront of industry in 2022,” Lehmann said.
Wearable climate tech, like this arm-worn sensor from Kenzen, helps protect workers from heat in increasingly extreme temperatures. (Photo: Business Wire)
In 2022, the problem is getting attention: President Biden has announced emergency Federal Heat Rules and tasked the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to set new standards. Tech entrepreneurs are innovating ways to track and prevent the dangers of heat on the body.
“There is new tech that can save workers’ lives,” said Heidi Lehmann, a tech entrepreneur whose latest venture is Kenzen, maker of a wearable device that monitors workers’ physiology to predict and prevent heat injuries and deaths. “Progressive employers are already incorporating tech that tracks worker wellness.”
Kenzen has equipped first responders, miners, and workers in construction, energy, steel, and manufacturing with sensors that continuously monitor their physiology to assess core body temperature, sweat rate, and exertion. She welcomes legislation that will mandate the care needed for overheated bodies – breaks, water, and cooling techniques – yet warns that standards should not be one-size-fits-all. Biological sex, age, fitness, acclimatization, and other individual factors dictate what each worker needs to stay safe and productive.
“Heat monitoring is key to achieving ‘Total Worker Health.’ Every person has a different threshold for being able to withstand hot temperatures and hot work. Across-the-board mandates will not curb the alarming statistics. Advanced technology for a personalized approach needs to be part of the solution,” said Lehmann.
Kenzen sensors gather tens of thousands of data points per worker per shift. Through research and validation with top universities and use of its system by more than 50 companies, Kenzen has amassed the largest known dataset of continuous core body temperature in the world.
The Kenzen device warns workers, via haptic vibration, when their physiology indicates danger of heat stress. Managers get an alert via an app when a worker needs an intervention to stay safe. A second alert indicates when the worker’s body is ready to resume work. Corporate safety leaders use an analytics dashboard to make enterprise-wide decisions to minimize heat risks, reduce injuries, and improve productivity. They may adjust work schedules or assign certain tasks to individuals. Throughout the process, personal data is protected; only workers can view their health information while others only see what is necessary to keep workers safe.
“Worker heat health is at the forefront of industry in 2022,” said Lehmann, whose backers include Working Capital Fund, which invests in companies that meet the growing demand for more transparent and ethical supply chains that protect workers.
The Kenzen heat monitoring system is for use by industrial companies, such as construction firms, mining operations, agricultural, utilities, and oil and gas worksites. It is a SaaS system that includes a wearable device worn by workers that alerts both the worker and their supervisor when the worker’s core body temperature is too high and he/she is in danger of heat illness or injury, including death. Real-time alerts allow for immediate intervention to keep workers safe and help the company proactively manage its risk and productivity. Data also informs Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) leaders’ decisions to enhance heat safety across the company.
The Kenzen wearable sensor monitors multiple individual physiological and environmental metrics, including heart rate, sweat rate, exertion levels, and microclimate. It also stores an individual worker’s heat susceptibility and hydration needs based on the factors that affect a person’s tolerance to heat, which include gender, age, health conditions, prescriptions taken, and more. Together, this data allows for accurate prediction of heat stress for workers and the prevention of heat-related injuries and fatalities.
The Kenzen system monitors core body temperature, the greatest predictor of heat stress and illness, and alerts workers via smart phone notifications and supervisors via web dashboards when a worker should take a break to avoid heat-related injuries. The system makes recommendations on how to treat heated workers and a second alert indicates when the worker’s temperature has returned to a safe level to return to work.
Tens of thousands of data points collected per worker per day help companies manage heat risk by location and job role, and adapt worksites to improve safety while maximizing productivity. Modifications may include changes to work-rest schedules, hydration and shade stations, air-conditioned rest areas, and ice-bath locations. The data can also inform decisions about appropriate use of equipment and clothing to reduce heat injuries.
The three views of data were designed by Kenzen to protect workers’ private health information.
The Kenzen system is currently being used throughout the world to keep people safe on the job.
Whether it’s a Fortune 500 company or a privately owned business, companies share a common objective: Protecting their greatest assets. In doing so, they create profitability. There have been many advancements in AI, robotics and innovations that eliminate or drastically decrease manhours. However, the greatest assets companies have are their hands and feet. The people they employ dedicate their time, expertise and labor to keep the organization running like a well-oiled machine. These people are somebody’s spouses, parents, children, grandchildren – people who are important to them and whom they care about. They are dedicated human beings committed to increasing a company’s bottom line.
There are many oil and gas initiatives taking place along the U.S. Gulf Coast, onshore and offshore. That particular area of the country is known for its excessive heat in the summer months. Companies take measures to combat the heat and provide provisions to make it slightly more manageable. Cooling towels, pickle pops, fluorescent neck guards on hard hats and staying hydrated are just some of the measures being taken to combat the heat and keep employees safe.
Each year, thousands of workers are sickened by workplace heat exposure. On September 20, 2021, the U.S. Department of Labor announced enhanced, expanded measures to protect workers from hazards of extreme heat, indoors and out. As part of the Biden-Harris administration’s interagency effort and commitment to workplace safety, climate resilience and environmental justice, the department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is initiating enhanced measures to better protect workers in hot environments and reduce the dangers of exposure to ambient heat.
According to the OSHA Nation News Release, OSHA area directors across the nation will institute the following:
Prioritize inspections of heat-related complaints, referrals and employer-reported illnesses and initiate an onsite investigation where possible.
Instruct compliance safety and health officers, during their travels to job sites, to conduct an intervention (providing the agency’s heat poster/wallet card, discuss the importance of easy access to cool water, cooling areas and acclimatization) or opening an inspection when they observe employees performing strenuous work in hot conditions.
Expand the scope of other inspections to address heat-related hazards where worksite conditions or other evidence indicates these hazards may be present.
This problem has not been on the forefront of everyone’s minds, but now that it has national and government recognition, it is in fact, a crisis that needs to be addressed. Lives are on the line. So, what if you could do more? What if there was an additional option out there to keep your employees safe and optimally performing?
There is. Kenzen has developed wearable safety technology that keeps workers safe by continuously monitoring key physiological indicators, such as heart rate, over-exertion and core body temperature. Health, safety and environment (HSE) managers are kept abreast of dangerous situations with real-time data that predicts and prevents heat related illness and injury.
Nora Levinson is the founder and CEO of Kansas City-based Kenzen, maker of wearable tech that tracks worker’s heat risk by continuously monitoring an individual’s physiological markers such as heat rate, sweat rate and exertion. She holds both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in engineering from Stanford and has experience in connected device development and manufacturing. Kenzen president and COO Heidi Lehmann is an experienced mobile platforms and media entrepreneur, combining a track record in connected devices, mobile platforms and distributed media, as well as five-plus years of experience in the industrial wearables market. She is also an advisor to start-ups and venture capital firms.
“We expect a surge in use of wearable safety devices, particularly given the new heat safety standards that President Biden has asked OSHA to draft,” says co-founder Lehmann. “There’s already great interest in the connected industrial worker method of maximizing safety and productivity for individuals and their employers. But employers need to look for products that have privacy filters for protecting personal data and algorithms that allow for the interpretation of mass amounts of data to make enterprise-wide safety decisions.”
The device is compact and waterproof, and records biometric data from a flat surface in a highly effective, unobtrusive way. It monitors core body temperature and heart rate with a multi-LED PPG sensor, and worker microclimate, sweat rate and activity levels with motion metrics. The continuous safety monitoring is both real-time and highly accurate. The detection is contextual to the worker’s physiology and their discrete environment. The data is hyper-personalized, with individual baselines and de-identified data at the management level. Managers can provide immediate support with data points translating to actionable insights, in real time. The machine learning predictive models deploy across workforce populations, giving managers tools to prevent future heat-related injury and illness. Customizable integrations and cloud APIs extract and expose data in usable client formats.
When a person gets heat stroke, the body becomes unable to control its temperature. Untreated, it can quickly damage the brain, heart, kidneys and muscles. It occurs when people become dehydrated, or after exposure to hot and humid weather for prolonged periods while engaging in intense physical activity, like someone would on a job site. The damage it can cause to the body can worsen the longer treatment is delayed and even lead to death. In addition, once the body has been exposed to heat stroke once, victims are more susceptible to it when conditions occur in the future.
Prevention is key. The team at Kenzen recognizes the need for intervention. The preventative measures it has developed and implemented will keep this from ever happening, taking a proactive approach to protect the people essential to the operation of a successful company. It has developed a complete safety monitoring platform with integrated worker devices, mobile apps, team dashboards and enterprise software. The devices can be rented in different sized packages or purchased. The company has made it possible to ensure that all employees are fit for duty and protected from heat illness and injury. By creating an invaluable device that has the ability not only to save lives, but to equip the individual and management team with data, Kenzen is providing them with the vital knowledge they need to combat harmful conditions and safeguard their most valuable assets.