Source: EM Update | Vol. 10, Issue 36; Contributor: Sonya Johnson | September 11, 2018

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A worker shows the safety app on his tablet screen, which displays real-time heat indexes, heart rates, and hourly forecasts specific to the user’s location. Supervisors can track their team members’ health simultaneously using the tool. 

Temperatures often surge above 90 degrees during summer months here, prompting EM’s Oak Ridge cleanup contractor to search for ways to keep workers safe in the heat and humidity.

 Employees at URS|CH2M Oak Ridge (UCOR) discovered an app that does just that — the Occupational Safety and Health Administration-National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health Heat Safety Tool.

UCOR piloted a telemetric heart rate monitoring system to complement its heat stress controls. While full coverage personal protective equipment and suits safeguard workers from contamination, they also add to heat stress on workers and make it more difficult to conduct physiological monitoring.

With a strong record of performance with military, police, fire departments, and major sports teams, the heat safety app appeared to be a good fit for UCOR’s “industrial athletes” who work in challenging cleanup environments. The monitoring system includes a chest strap heart rate sensor that works with a tablet computer.

 “The health and safety of our employees and contractors is our top priority,” said Larry Perkins, director of the Oak Ridge Office of Environmental Management’s operations management division. “This type of technology provides an economical and effective way to protect workers and detect heat stress before it becomes a serious concern.”

 The app, which features a real-time heat index, hourly forecasts specific to the user’s location, and guidance for first aid, proved useful to planning work activities.

The system was tested on two projects, and the results showed that early indicators, such as a pulse rate, could be easily recognized. This enabled earlier response times and the ability to avoid heat stress.

“UCOR actively seeks new safety and health-related initiatives,” said Walt Czekaj, UCOR industrial hygiene programs manager. “Innovative solutions, such as this safety tool, are key to reaching the ultimate goal of zero accidents.”

These tools and the quest to improve workplace safety are adding new levels of protection for crews in the field that are advancing cleanup and accomplishing meaningful risk reduction projects.