Monitoring worker conditions in frigid environments
Friday, Mar 29th 2013

The Alaskan wilderness can be an extremely inhospitable environment. Temperatures can drop to life-threatening levels. With the region's rich reserves of oil, natural gas and other fossil fuels, workers will continue to toil away in the cold, attempting to extract its resources. Ensuring the safety of employees who work in unforgiving, frigid environments should be a priority of any business. Norwegian researchers may have recently developed a way to track worker safety conditions with the help of temperature monitoring equipment.

Monitoring worker conditions
The Alaska Dispatch reported that the research organization SINTEF has been working on a coat with built-in environmental sensors. If exterior conditions become life-threatening, temperature sensors on the clothing will alert crews to the dangerous situation and allow them to take the proper recourse. These tools will allow crew members working in freezing cold environments to safeguard themselves against life-threatening changes to the environment.

"Workers will be exposed to more extreme weather conditions, and that may lead to fatigue, impaired physical and cognitive performance. The safety of the workers is significantly affected when outside temperature decreases," wrote SINTEF research manager Hilde Faerevik, according to the news outlet.

The suits are also equipped with temperature and humidity sensors inside to measure the physical condition of workers operating in cold conditions. With this information, crew supervisors can better determine whether or not conditions have become too dangerous for workers to continue.

Reducing errors on the job
Researchers contend that, in addition to enhancing worker safety, the coats will increase their productivity as well. Current protocols use the wind-chill index to measure environmental safety conditions. However, this is only useful for predicting the risk of workers becoming frostbitten on their skin and not for measuring the temperature of their hands. According to studies conducted by SINTEF, worker performance can be significantly impaired when the temperature of their fingers dips below 68 degrees F.

"In such situations, the average worker may be so determined to get the job done that his fingers become cold and lose their dexterity, with the result that screws are not fitted correctly, leading to increased risk level sometime in the future," Oystein Wiggen, research scientist at SINTEF Health Research stated in a press release.

The temperature sensors do not need to actually contact the skin to get a reading. The devices' wiring has been created using conductive thread that can then be woven into the jacket's cloth.