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Posted February 8, 2017

The next step in workplace safety

by Frank Hurtte

Today, many industrial environmental issues are measured. Things like noise, temperature, humidity, smoke, and hazardous chemicals in the air come to mind. In most instances, the readings are not taken continuously. Instead, a system of periodic measures are taken. However, some issues are temporary. For instance, slippery surfaces are sometimes related to short lived conditions such as humidity and current state of cleanliness. When reported, the observations are subjective. One person’s view of a slippery floor may be different from another’s, but the injury still happens.

MakUSafeAnother issue comes with reporting. Workers in the U.S. are asked to report injuries large and small, but again the subjective nature of the injury means some overlook a smashed fingernail and continue to work even if the smashed fingernail could have easily been a lost finger. The same goes for “near misses” with tripping in the workplace. Knowing the issue, researching the issue and the data surrounding the issue would be massively beneficial to improving overall plant safety.

Des Moines, Iowa-based MakUSafe is in the final stages of production on a revolutionary new safety device. It is a wearable product, a close kin to the Fitbit or Apple Watch, equipped with a number of sensors that monitor important safety data. Unlike fancy wearables and digitally enabled watches, the MakuSafe product is targeted to sell at around $50.

Data surrounding environmental noise, chemicals and slippery surfaces is captured by a device worn by employees on the factory floor. Location is added via a triangulation between WiFi receivers. Adding the two together provides data on not only the conditions the employee is subjected to but also the specific location within the facility. Because the device has both integrated memory and communications capability, temporary outages and issues with poor communications performance between large industrial machines are mitigated.

Armed with this data, a safety professional can not only spot persistent issues but also identify the time and location of exposure to unsafe conditions. Reporting becomes automated. For example, a fact sheet from OSHA and the National Safety Council defines a near miss as an “unplanned event that did not result in injury, illness or damage – but had the potential to do so.” Employers are encouraged (and sometimes required) to report near misses, but in practice preparing the reports has a human side. Employees forget to report and safety professionals are burdened with an extra layer of paper. The MakUSafe device, along with its companion software piece, resolves both issues.

Insurance companies are embracing the solution
The insurance industry has embraced the concept of data-centric safety decisions. Capturing real-time workplace environmental information and analyzing the data allows for the insurer to assist their clients in mitigating workplace conditions that could lead to safety issues. Best practices will be propagated. And further, understanding the extent of the risk within the workplace allows the company to more closely match insurance coverage to providers. Many will see their rates adjusted downward, while safety laggards will either change their mode of operation or see rates adjusted to higher levels.

Distributors are a part of the plan
“Distributors are a critical part of our plan for rapid growth. As a start-up company, we intend to partner with knowledge-based distributors to rapidly bring our product to market," said Gabriel Glynn, MakUSafe’s president and CEO. "Distributors have the relationship and understand the importance of safety in the modern future. We see them as the perfect partners and developed our distribution strategy very early in our organization."

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 4,836 deaths in 2015 from workplace-related injuries in the United States. Prior to the creation of OSHA, the average was over 14,000 per year. Distributors played an important role in driving the number downward, but 5,000 deaths is still nothing to brag about. Distributors will play a role in pushing this number even lower.

A final note
MakuSafe is a start-up. The first rounds of funding have attracted enthusiastic investors. Beta test products have been tested and proven in a number of factories around the Midwest. Production products will be available late 2017.

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