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.
Perennially recognized as one of America’s safest builders, McCarthy Building Companies, Inc. is partnering with Kenzen to pilot wearable heat monitoring technology on multiple construction projects. Kenzen’s smart PPE devices monitor the heat status of workers in hot and humid conditions, helping predict and prevent heat stress and illness. Together, the organizations will gain valuable insight into how the technology can minimize the risk of heat illness and protect the broader construction workforce.
“Safety is the most important thing we do every day, and on many projects that includes heat awareness and heat illness prevention,” said McCarthy Vice President National Safety Pat Devero. “The Kenzen system is already helping us identify new ways to prevent heat illness, assist in validating our current practices and heat illness expectations, and is a great example of how embracing technology can improve our industry’s approach to health and safety.”
The Kenzen devices worn by workers contain sensors that monitor, in real-time, an individual’s physiological markers that trigger heat injury risks. This includes a sweat rate monitoring feature that uses a worker’s information and physiological data to calculate and predict their sweat rate in liters per hour. Using a proprietary algorithm, the Kenzen device can alert workers of dangerous heat stress via a smart phone app. The data helps eliminate guesswork about how to keep workers safely hydrated and makes it possible for individual workers to know the specific amount of water they need to drink to stay safe.
On-site managers have access to alerts and corporate safety leaders use an analytics dashboard to monitor and evaluate risks to individuals and teams, helping them optimize worker safety. McCarthy will use the technology to identify broad trends that affect all projects and implement preventative measures to increase safety and productivity.
“The Kenzen pilot was a valuable program for our jobsite,” said Andrew Rhines, McCarthy Project Safety Coordinator in Texas. “It benefitted the craft professionals on our site and the data gathered by Kenzen helped verify many different aspects of our national heat illness prevention plans including water consumption and scheduled breaks.”
McCarthy and Kenzen are equally committed to protecting user data; the system does not reveal personal information or reasons why someone is in a particular heat risk category; it is only used to monitor and manage people according to their individual heat susceptibility.
McCarthy makes education about heat illness and injury prevention a priority during the spring and early summer as temperatures increase. The company shares educational information internally, hosts on-site educational and training sessions, and makes resources available for its workforce in-person and online. On projects in high heat areas, McCarthy provides hydration aids, shade stations, cooling fans and brimmed head protection to reduce heat. It’s also common for the projects to alter schedules, allowing the day’s work to be completed before the hottest portion of the day.
From 1992 through 2017, there were 70,000 serious injuries and 815 deaths caused by exposure to excessive heat, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Of the 492 occupational fatalities attributed to exposure to environmental heat from 2003 to 2016, 179, or 36 percent, were in the construction industry.
“McCarthy is a leader in exploring all opportunities to keep employees safe,” said Heidi Lehmann, Kenzen co-founder and President. “With the Kenzen system, they can tailor their approach to individuals, teams, and projects because they have access to new, highly detailed information. This information helps manage risk, realize increased productivity, and meet every worker’s unique requirements for working safely.”
McCarthy has selected several pilot opportunities for the Kenzen system on jobsites in Arizona, Georgia and Texas. Employees using the system understand the protective value it offers and appreciate receiving notifications about their core body temperature, sweat rate, and hydration status – when they should stop and rest, and when it’s safe to return to work.
“The Kenzen system has been a successful initiative for our team and how we approach heat illness risk onsite,” said Sean Blakemore, McCarthy Project Safety Manager in Texas. “The entire Kenzen team is resourceful and is helping us maximize management of the program. The data we’re gathering is a significant benefit for us to not only verify and confirm our current approach, but it also helps everyone understand what drives the additional mitigation measures we take in order to send everyone home safely at the end of each day.”
McCarthy Building Companies, Inc. is the oldest privately held national construction company in the country – with more than 150 years spent collaborating with partners to solve complex building challenges on behalf of its clients. With an unrelenting focus on safety and a comprehensive quality program that span all phases of every project, McCarthy utilizes industry-leading design phase and construction techniques combined with value-add technology to maximize outcomes. Repeatedly honored as a Best Place to Work and Healthiest Employer, McCarthy is ranked the 13th largest domestic builder (Engineering News-Record, May 2021). With approximately 5,000 salaried employees and craft professionals, the firm has offices in St. Louis; Atlanta; Collinsville, Ill.; Kansas City, Kan.; Omaha, Neb.; Phoenix; Las Vegas; Denver; Dallas, Houston; and San Diego, Newport Beach, Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Jose and Sacramento, Calif. McCarthy is 100 percent employee owned. More information about the company is available online at www.mccarthy.com or by following the company on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram.
Technology could help make up for the imprecision of generalized rules. Last year, Garney Construction, a water and wastewater construction company based in Kansas City, Missouri, with offices around the country, partnered with Kenzen, a New York City-based tech startup, to pilot Kenzen’s wearable biometric sensor. The sensor, strapped around the upper arm, monitors indicators such as heart rate and core body temperature and alerts workers if they are showing signs of heat-related illness. The devices also send a warning to supervisors, though details are kept hidden to protect workers’ medical privacy.
Ryan Smith, eastern regional safety manager at Garney, said the sensors were tested last August and September on about 70 workers at 12 sites.
The sensors revealed some interesting data, Smith said. For example, workers at a Colorado site were overheating earlier in the day than expected, most likely because they were wearing more clothing in the cool mornings. The revelation prompted the employer to give workers a break specifically to remove the extra clothing. Heidi Lehmann, Kenzen’s co-founder and chief commercial officer, said the software platform that supports the sensors starts at about $40 per worker per month, with each sensor collecting tens of thousands of data points during an employee’s shift.
By the end of this year, up to 5,000 of the sensors are expected to be in use worldwide, Lehmann said. In the meantime, Kenzen is compiling a trove of data related to heat-illness risk factors, which could provide new insights for prevention.
As one might imagine, extreme heat can lead to an increase in workplace injuries. According to a recent study by researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, hot days do not just mean more cases of heat exertion and stroke. Heat stress on the body also leads to a greater incidence of falls and vehicle or machinery mishandling due to loss of concentration. These incidents lead to an additional 20,000 workplace injuries each year in California alone.
On days when the temperature was 85 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit, the researchers found the overall risk of workplace injuries was 5% to 7% higher on days when temperatures were in the 60s. When temperatures reached 100 degrees, the overall risk of injuries was 10% to 15% higher.
In general, heat-related injuries occur in just about every major group of workers across industries that the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics tracks. In 2018, 3,120 workers missed at least one day of work due to environmental heat, and more than 1,100 of those workers were in the construction and transportation industries. According to OSHA’s occupational injury cost estimator, using an average 6% profit margin for construction, the direct and indirect costs of a single heat-related incident require about $1.3 million in sales to offset.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), 2020 was the second-warmest year on record—just 0.04 degrees Fahrenheit cooler than 2016. In addition, the world’s seven-warmest years have all occurred since 2014, and 10 of the warmest years have occurred since 2005. As extreme heat becomes more common, organizations around the world must ensure they are taking proactive measures to protect workers.
How Heat Stress Happens
As a person’s core body temperature rises, sweating is the primary natural mode of cooling down. Blood flow increases to the skin, water and electrolytes are expelled by the sweat glands, and evaporation of sweat cools the body. This process is efficient as long as evaporation can occur, activity level does not increase, and hydration is adequate. However, workers on job sites are subject to their environment and productivity requirements, which may disrupt the body’s cooling process.
The heart rate needs to increase during sweating to pump blood fast enough to get it to the skin to cool off the body. Muscles also require blood to get oxygen and other nutrients for proper function during work. This means the cardiovascular system is strained when working in the heat, sending blood to everywhere it is needed. If a worker is sweating and maintaining a steady workload, eventually they are going to feel the fluid loss from sweating. The sweat loss will result in lower blood volume and pressure.
Working in hot weather impacts the nervous system as well, decreasing a worker’s ability to complete their tasks and affecting their cognitive ability. The nervous system needs to work harder to accomplish the same muscle movement it did when the environment was cooler. This makes work-related tasks harder and cognitive decision-making more difficult.
Adaptation to heat takes time and varies by individual, but the process typically takes two to three weeks when managed properly. Appropriate heat acclimatization is accomplished by increasing one’s core body temperature one degree Celsius for an hour each day. If the job requires workers to wear personal protective equipment (PPE), as most do, they need to slowly add PPE as well, for example, adding 20% each day and working toward full worksite coverage.
Keep in mind that heat-related injuries can also happen in cooler weather, particularly if a worker is over-exerting or dressed too warmly, causing overheating in their microclimate (the temperature between the skin and clothing).
Monitoring Heat Health
Measuring an employee’s heat health is imperative for detecting the onset of heat stress and taking steps to prevent incidents, injuries and even death. The standard method of measuring an employee’s core body temperature, the primary indicator of an issue, has been through gastrointestinal pills. Workers swallow one of these pills and a wearable device tracks their temperature over a set period of time as the pill moves through the body. Thermometers can also be used to get a temperature reading, but they do not scale well in workforces and only capture temperature at one point in time.
As workers go through their day, their physiology changes based on the conditions and their body’s response, so it is most helpful to track individuals’ health through continuous monitoring, such as via wearable devices. This allows the employee, supervisor and company to get real-time data that prompts an intervention to restore optimal body temperature and allow return to work, increasing productivity and safety.
Some organizations have started using smart PPE technology to enhance safety and minimize risk. Workers don devices with sensors that monitor heart rate, temperature and sweat rate. These are tracked against the individual’s heat susceptibility, as determined by factors including gender, age, underlying health conditions, current medications, and ability to acclimate. Some devices can send alerts to workers to warn them of stresses to their body, and send these alerts to their supervisors and company. Supervisors can then call a time out for individual workers to restore their bodies to safe working levels, while companies can track health data in various conditions at worksites and across multiple teams for a holistic view of their workforce’s health. Because core body temperature affects the work, this technology can also track productivity at the individual, team and corporate levels.
Preventing Heat Risk for Workers
There are a number of ways to protect workers from the impact of heat. Encourage workers to use a buddy system while on the job. Buddies are responsible for checking on specific coworkers’ well-being and they should talk to each other several times during the work day. If one person notices something strange or out of character with the other, they should alert supervisors and immediately get the person to an emergency cooling station on-site.
Educate workers on the signs and symptoms of heat stress. Encourage them to pay attention to their own symptoms and what their body may be telling them. Let employees know it is dangerous to “push through” the situation by being “tough” under extreme circumstances. It is not productive for the job—heat stress actually slows the work pace and increases errors. Working safely is the goal, not speed or testing the limits of the human body.
Acknowledge when a worker is vocal about symptoms and take all comments about changes in the body seriously. When the onset of heat stress is detected, stop the individual from working, get them to shade or air conditioning, and encourage them to drink fluids, especially water. Check on the person every five minutes to make sure they are recovering and feeling better. After 10 to 15 minutes, they may return to work if their symptoms have subsided. If not, continue treatment to eliminate the symptoms or seek professional medical attention for the worker if symptoms do not subside.
If the worker exhibits symptoms of heat stroke (when their body temperature reaches 104 degrees Fahrenheit and they are confused or vomiting), immediately call for emergency medical services. While waiting for emergency assistance to arrive, help the worker cool down as quickly as possible. If available, try using ice baths or rotating cold compresses around the person’s body. Most importantly, do not leave their side until help arrives.
Heat-related injuries are almost entirely preventable. The latest techniques and tools, such as wearable devices, can help organizations understand the potential severity of the problem and respond appropriately, better protecting employees in extreme working conditions.
KANSAS CITY, MO (Aug. 20, 2021) – Kenzen, the innovator of monitoring industrial workers’ core body temperatures to predict and prevent heat stress, has announced the results of its most recent research. New data collected from a recent study with three research universities to compare and validate Kenzen’s continuous core body temperature monitoring technology against existing methodologies, has now made the company’s dataset the largest one on continuous core body temperature monitoring in the world. It includes over 75 unique subjects monitored for >24 h, totaling >100,000 minutes of ground truth core temperature data (while wearing the Kenzen device).
The research-validated that the Kenzen wearable device algorithm can now accurately measure workers’ body temperature at rest and during physical activity, in cool, hot, and humid conditions. The research compared the Kenzen device against two current gold standards of measuring core body temperature: when an individual ingests a (gastrointestinal) pill and wears a device to track temperature and when a rectal thermometer is used.
These gold standard methods of measuring core body temperature are problematic for broad industrial use because they are highly invasive and/or expensive, and therefore not scalable. The Kenzen system also factors in biological sex, age, sweat rate, hydration, and heat susceptibility into its calculation of an individual worker’s heat risk, as each of these components play a role in the person’s ability to handle working in the heat. The research has concluded that the Kenzen system meets the industry-accepted standards for core temperature accuracy (i.e. mean absolute error ≤0.3°C) for core body temperatures ranging from 36 to 40°C and environmental conditions ranging from 13 to 43°C (55-109°F).
The research was conducted at three top universities for heat-stress physiology research, including University of Sydney (Australia) and Massey University (New Zealand).
“Many core temperature monitoring solutions fail at temperatures ≥38.5°C (101.3°F), but temperatures above this point are when heat-related injuries and illnesses occur. Using a highly accurate core temperature device is paramount to keeping workers safe,” said Dr. Nicole Moyen, vice president of research and development, Kenzen. “We also built the Kenzen algorithm for all workers – not just young, fit males – and wanted to ensure it would remain accurate for activities in a wide range of environmental conditions.”
“Luckily, there’s increasing awareness and urgency to address heat stress among workforces,” said Heidi Lehmann, Kenzen president and co-founder. Lehmann and her team are spending the summer deploying the system around the world, from solar sites in Florida to mines in Ontario, with fire fighters in Texas and utility workers in Kansas.
Recent studies on the effects of heat on industrial workers have been cited in congressional testimonies and in the New York Times. While only three U.S. states have industrial standards for working in the heat, OSHA recently released new guidance for protecting indoor workers.
Kenzen devices worn by workers contain sensors that monitor, in real-time, an individual’s physiological responses. The worker is warned, via a smart phone app and device vibration, when their core temperature is too high and they are in danger of a heat-related injury or illness. Managers have a corresponding app that alerts them when a worker needs an intervention to stop work, rest, and hydrate. Both workers and their managers also receive a second alert for when it’s safe to return to work based on their own physiological data. EHS leaders use the Kenzen analytics dashboard to make individual, team, or enterprise-wide decisions to minimize heat-related injuries and illnesses across their worksites by looking at aggregated data across weeks and months.
The Kenzen solution integrates the company’s commitment to data privacy; only workers can view the details of their personal health information, while safety managers and other EHS leaders only see what’s necessary to keep workers safe.
Kenzen has deployed its award-winning heat monitors with workforces across the globe in domains such as construction, mining, field services, manufacturing, renewable energy, utility oil and gas, ag, and transportation.
Founded in 2016, Kenzen is the premier physiological monitoring platform to keep workforces safe from heat, fatigue, and over exertion on the job while providing data driven insights to maintain productivity. For more information about heat stress and how to integrate the system into a safety plan, visit Kenzen.com.