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.
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.
Startland News’ Startup Road Trip series explores innovative and uncommon ideas finding success in rural America and Midwestern startup hubs outside the Kansas City metro. This series is possible thanks to the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, which leads a collaborative, nationwide effort to identify and remove large and small barriers to new business creation.
Plug and Play Topeka is back, Lindsay Lebahn said, announcing the accelerator program’s second cohort of startups — including a surging Kansas City company — and revealing ways the effort has redefined the definition of entrepreneurship in the Sunflower State’s epicenter.
Lindsay Lebahn, Plug and Play Animal Health and AgTech Accelerator
“Realistic expectations of Topeka have changed,” explained Lebahn, program manager and a key player in bringing the San Francisco-based accelerator’s presence to Topeka two years ago.
“Topeka is really starting to believe in Topeka. … I think a lot of that [has to do with the] revitalization of downtown. We’ve had a lot of things happen throughout the years, but they would happen in pockets,” she continued, highlighting the efforts of GO Topeka to establish an innovation hub and center near and along Kansas Avenue — and a massive opportunity for connectivity in Shawnee County that comes with it.
“Things were happening, but not necessarily in a centralized location. Unless you lived in that area or visited that area, you didn’t really notice it and didn’t really feel it … but this revitalization of downtown has really helped the momentum of Topeka and I think Topekans are now starting to realize that there’s stuff to do here, there’s opportunities.”
Having successfully launched its first cohort virtually earlier this year amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Plug and Play welcomed 10 new startups into its animal health program last month. Among them, Kansas City-based Kenzen — a biometric platform and maker of a workplace safety, smart patch that monitors heat, fatigue and over exertion on the job.
Click here to learn more about Kenzen in a Startland News special report, broadcast in partnership with Bank of America.
Heidi Lehmann, president, CCO and co-founder of Kenzen, right, speaks with Channa Steinmetz, Startland News reporter, and Joshua Lewis, founder of UpDown Nightlife, during the 2021 VC-Backed Companies Special Report
Additional participants, chosen by founding partners of the Plug and Play Topeka program Cargill, Evergy, and Hills Pet Nutrition, include: Aegis Packaging, Singapore; Birdstop, San Francisco, California; ISO Thrive, Manassas, VA; Lumin, Charlottesville, Virginia; Maven, Portugal; Nanox, Newton, Massachusetts; Pepperai, New York, New York; Sniffypet; Calgary, Alberta; and Tarot Analytics, Paris, France.
“It’s more than just animal health,” Lebahn said of the cohort and the problems they’re working to solve.
“We’ve seen a lot more [companies tackling] sustainability [and] workforce issues with COVID changing everything. Our partners are really looking to make sure that they are doing everything they can for their company and to make sure that they’re the top of the line, they’ve got the newest, latest, greatest technology.”
Less than a month into the program, current cohort companies have already received interest from venture firms who’ve participated in the program — just one result of Plug and Play’s intentional, cross-vertical programming and events, which see frequent collaboration with its North Dakota-based agtech accelerator and its Silicon Valley-based food-focused program.
Nine nondisclosure agreements have been signed between startups and corporations involved in the first program, Lebahn added, indicating there’s power in the program and its setup.
Click here for a full description of each startup or here to learn more about the Plug and Play Topeka program and past participants.