Industrial Hygiene Goes High Tech with the IoT

The terms “hygiene” and “the Internet of Things” (IoT) may seem worlds apart – unless your world is industrial hygiene management. In that case, you may feel overwhelmed trying to sort out the hype from the helpful information. Here’s a quick introduction to the current practice and future potential of IoT in the management of workplace hygiene, health and safety.

Sensors help monitor employee hygiene and safety

In the simplest terms, the Internet of Things in this context starts with data-gathering sensors and monitors. The most common – and, according to research, the most important to industry professionals – are those that are wearable and/or mobile, enabling real-time monitoring of workers, even remotely. These units represent the “on the worker, on the job” technology that is ushering in what a recent industry report called “the sensing era, the third information technology era, in which the digital and the physical world intersect and merge.” There are too many possible applications to mention the full spectrum – but an exemplary category is gas detection, in which smartphone apps and sensors help warn workers of toxic substances such as otherwise undetectable gases.

How to productively approach IoT today

There is incredible variety, rapid growth and non-stop innovation in “the connected enterprise,” as IoT-enabled, digitally-integrated organizations are often called. To stay focused on the most pertinent and productive applications for your work environment, it pays to keep in mind the primary areas in which the IoT can provide benefits:

  • Safety: Connected devices can monitor your workers’ environment for hazards, as well as track their work habits, and exact locations, for safety. They can also provide critical product monitoring in highly regulated industries like food processing.
  • Compliance: By equipping employees to work safely, and by collecting data on how well they adhere to the protocols, you improve the workplace while enhancing and simplifying compliance with safety regulations.
  • Productivity: With the ability to monitor and “coach” worker behaviors and process adherence, multitasking sensors can help optimize work performance and output.

From food processing to foodservice, industries are eating up IoT

In the food processing industry, IoT innovations such as those providing real-time monitoring of refrigeration status all along the supply chain (with automated record-keeping built in) have gained a great deal of attention. Even less obvious, but no less critical, areas such as food processing facility restroom are getting an IoT upgrade. New devices that provide web-enabled, real-time tracking of restroom supply levels and worker use patterns help ensure that supply levels are always sufficient. With the ability to output trend reports that establish use patterns and norms, these devices can give you a fact-based impression of overall worker compliance with handwashing regulations.

The Internet of Things is also there when food moves from factory to restaurant. Giants like McDonald’s and KFC have already embraced the IoT revolution, monitoring cooking, cleaning and storage equipment behind the counter, while keeping tighter tabs on the customer experience.

What to look for in the future

The incredibly rapid pace of change makes it nearly impossible to forecast what is ahead in the IoT in any sector. For “industry” in the sense of manufacturing, service and non-consumer-facing businesses, health and safety risk mitigation will certainly continue as a core use. New capabilities will likely move well beyond prevention and maintenance into active enhancement of employee health, and, of course, cost reduction.

As for those industries that need to actively address both employee and customer health, safety and satisfaction, expect to see IoT applications that look to not only monitor health and hygiene factors, but that will also track and reward healthy behaviors.

It’s a brave new world in industrial hygiene – how will you make the Internet of Things work for you?

AIHA: Future of Sensors report
AIHA: IH Apps – Tools
EHS: Reimagining Safety with the Industrial Internet of Things
Industrial Hygiene News: IoT Smart Phone Solutions for Gas Detection
NCBI: Barriers to the Adoption of Wearable Sensors
EHS Today: PPE and the IoT Tork Vision Cleaning
Food Safety News: 4 Ways IoT is supporting the food industry
Modern Restaurant Management: The Internet of Things for the Foodservice Space