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.
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.
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.