The American Society of Safety Professionals (ASSP) Foundation, Park Ridge, Ill., released a fatigue research report that shows the value of wearable technology in the workplace. The 3-year study was led by Dr. Lora Cavuoto, associate professor of Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering at the University at Buffalo, Buffalo, N.Y., and Dr. Fadel Megahed, assistant professor of information systems and analytics at the Farmer School of Business at Miami University of Ohio, Miami, Fla. The project also involved researchers from Auburn University, Auburn, Ala., and the University of Dayton, Dayton, Ohio.

The study demonstrated how to capture a worker’s safety performance and translate the data into personal fatigue levels. It’s the first step in creating a comprehensive framework that can identify research-supported interventions that protect workers from injuries caused by being tired on the job.

“Fatigue is a hidden danger in the workplace, but now we’ve tackled the measurement and modeling of fatigue through wearable sensors, incorporating big data analytics and safety engineering,” says Cavuoto. “Information is power, so knowing when, where and how fatigue impacts worker safety is critical. You can’t identify solutions until you pinpoint the problems.”

The research funded by the ASSP Foundation involved 25 participants wearing non-obtrusive wrist, hip and ankle sensors while completing three tasks commonly performed by manufacturing workers – assembly, stocking and remaining in a static or flexed position. Each person worked in 3-hour increments. The study demonstrated that meaningful safety data can be collected by an employer in a cost-effective manner without interfering with a worker’s daily routine.

“By setting parameters, we identified behavioral changes in how people conduct work over time,” Cavuoto says. “For example, we saw how workers performed the same task in the first hour as compared to the third hour when fatigue became a factor. Wearable technology can uncover precursors to larger problems and help establish safety interventions that may call for scheduled breaks, posture adjustments or vitamin supplements that help the body.”