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Unit worn by workers identifies hot spots
Researchers with The National Institute of Occupational Safety & Health (NIOSH) are adapting global positioning system (GPS)-type technology to pinpoint locations at outdoor worksites where employees may be exposed to hazardous levels of dusts, gases, fumes, noise, and heat. Called a local positioning system (LPS), because an individual worker wears the unit, the system takes in the GPS positioning and time and date from the same satellites used by GPS systems.
"Dust monitors, gas monitors, or noise level meters can plug into the LPS via a serial port, so it simultaneously gives you exposure and position," explains Jennifer Hornsby-Myers, CIH, the project officer. "This way, you can go right back and identify the hot spot and get rid of it."
The missing ingredient
This ability to identify hot spots is something that was sorely needed in the health and safety profession, says Hornsby-Myers. "Traditionally in the industrial hygiene world, they follow people around all day and note what they do and when, but it’s virtually impossible to follow everybody all day," she explains. "Or, they’d hang a sample on them to determine if they were either compliant or not. If they were not, they could not necessarily determine where the worker was and what he was doing when he was overexposed."
This is not necessarily even a compliance issue, she adds, because some companies have regulations that are even stricter than those set out by the government.
Five years of research
The research on this project has been ongoing for about five years, says Hornsby-Myers, who has been with it for three years. "We started in the lab, and the first prototype was a huge, monstrous thing called a backpack," she recalls. "When I saw it, I said, No way.’" The LPS has since been miniaturized, and it now not much bigger than a videocassette.
NIOSH now also uses a mobile reference station, which enables it to be in contact with a number of units at once while only paying a single $800 annual subscription for satellite data access. "This not only made it cheaper, but we were able to separate this part out from the worker unit," says Hornsby-Myers.
How has the research gone? "The first question we had to answer was, Can we do this?’ This answer is, Yes we can,’" she says, noting recent successful pilot tests at a construction site and with the Coast Guard. "It worked real well on water."
The current prototype is second generation, and now NIOSH is working on a third generation, which is even smaller and lighter. "Our goal is a technology transfer; we will give it to whoever wants it," says Hornsby-Myers. "We are in the process of deciding if it is patentable. If it is, we will license it. If not, we’ll tell the world how to do it and they can do it themselves."
When will this technology be in use? "I would really hope within a year," she says. "The [patent research] process has been started, and a number of companies have expressed interest."
Hornsby-Myers hopes the LPS will have a huge impact on worker safety and health. "One of the things going into the third generation is telemetry," she says. "With it, the health and safety professional could sit at a monitor and see real-time data from employees. They could say, for example, Joe, what you doing? Your oxygen level has just dropped.’ The ability to do that would have a huge impact."
For more information, contact:
Jennifer Hornsby-Myers, CIH, NIOSH/HELD/ EAB, 1095 Willowdale Road, Morgantown, WV 26505. Telephone: (304) 285-6358. E-mail: Ezh7@cdc.gov.