MākuSafe Cited as Smart PPE Gaining Traction

March 5, 2021

EHS Today recently examined the growing market for “smart PPE” in the workplace. The arrival of COVID-19 prompted many companies to seek immediate solutions, while looking for long-term, proactive options for protecting workers. Advanced safety technology, for many companies, went from “nice to have” to a “must-have.” MākuSafe’s wearable safety technology was cited as one of the smart PPE options gaining traction with industrial organizations. Read a portion of the article, published on EHSToday.com, below.

What’s Next for Smart PPE

How a confluence of factors, including the COVID-19 pandemic, are helping to reimagine safety technology at the workplace.

Nicole Stempak MAR 04, 2021

If, as the saying goes, necessity is the mother of all invention, then the EHS market will proliferate in the aftermath of COVID-19.

Following years, decades even, of fighting for attention, budget and—if we’re being honest—respect, safety is being finally viewed in a new light. As a result of the global pandemic, people are hearing the call for safety. And, OK, they might not always be heeding all the advice.

But for the most part, there’s a greater sense of awareness and recognition that the same EHS professionals who pester them about filling out paperwork are also the ones trying to keep workers from catching a highly contagious disease.

COVID-19 is changing the conversation about safety at the workplace, accelerating slowly building trends and quickly demonstrating a return on investment, a critical component to management support that has sometimes been intangible. All of that will help build the case for, and hopefully buy in, for more prominence in the decision-making process and bigger safety budgets to purchase new tools and technology. One area that’s ripe for change: smart personal protective equipment (PPE).

Technavio, the global technology research and advisory company, released a report in July 2020 that predicts the global smart PPE market will grow by $2.25 billion from 2020-2024 and the market will accelerate at a compound annual growth rate of more than 16%.

The Rise of Smart PPE

Smart PPE is part of the larger movement for the connected workforce and the Industrial Internet of Things to improve workplaces safety and achieve operational excellence.

Smart PPE refers to smart wearable equipment that connects to the Internet or other devices, such as Bluetooth, to deliver real-time safety information to workers in the field as well as managers remotely. These wearables can track movements, send voice messages, monitor body temperature, issue alerts and record audio and/or video. They’re often paired with a cloud-based analytics platform, and sometimes they pair with a smartphone app, too. 

There are thousands of different data points smart PPE can capture and track, which can be used to address any number of safety concerns, everything from fever to heat exhaustion to fatigue to improper lifting motions.

“It’s a huge space, and so being honest about what problem we’re trying to solve is really critical,” says Rodolphe d’Arjuzon, Ph.D., co-founder and global head of research and finance director of Verdantix, an independent research and consulting firm focused on EHS, operational excellence, smart buildings and sustainability technologies.

There’s a proliferation of devices, fabrics and platforms that can both solve all and none of your problems at once. Part of the reason is that the smart PPE market has changed dramatically over the past decade. Established companies, such as 3M and Honeywell, have introduced  product offerings as have plenty of startups, such as Guardhat, Corvex Connected Worker, Eleksen, Kenzen, MākuSafe, Bodytrak and Seebo. Sometimes, those startups attract attention from investors, as was the case when global insurance firm AIG partnered with now-defunct startup Human Condition Safety in 2016.

Momentum for smart PPE has been slowly building, aided by advancements in technology and a decrease in hardware costs. There are still plenty of barriers to entry, but the conversations surrounding smart PPE are different this time.

“Before COVID hit, I’d say there was a growing awareness [of smart PPE], but the adoption was low,” says Bill Pennington, research director for EHS at Verdantix. “It was nice to have. Now, it’s not as much a nice to have as it is a need to have.”

Pennington says prior to COVID-19, smart PPE was more likely to be deployed by a certain division or for a certain condition at a large corporation like Shell or Chrysler. The pandemic is demonstrating that smart PPE manufacturers can spur large-scale adoption by leveraging their capabilities and reducing costs so small- to medium-sized enterprises can see improvements.

As smart PPE has gained traction, so too have consumer wearables. Widespread reception to, and adoption of, smart consumer electronics such as fitness trackers and smartwatches have whet wearers’ appetite for more data. They’ve also made the general public more comfortable with wearing these devices.  

In January 2021, analyst firm Gartner Inc., forecast the worldwide end-user spending on wearable devices will total $81.5 billion in 2021, an 18.1% increase from $69 billion in 2020. Gartner, in a news release, acknowledged “the rise in remote work and an increased interest in health monitoring during the COVID-19 pandemic was a significant factor driving market growth.”

The Impact of COVID-19

The startup Kenzen focuses on physiological monitoring—heart rate, hydration and core body temperature—to prevent industrial workforce injuries caused by heat, overexertion, fatigue and fever. Workers wear an armband that records their data, which can be accessed by workers themselves via an app and their managers via a dashboard.

Kenzen co-founder and COO Heidi Lehmann says the risks and costs associated with heat stress are easily understood, allowing companies to see the return on investment that Kenzen offers. She has been fielding inquiries from Fortune 500 companies, and Kenzen is conducting multiple pilots with large multinational conglomerates in oil and gas, mining and the construction industries.

Early on in the pandemic, Lehmann and her team recognized their expertise could also be used to detect fevers, a common coronavirus symptom. That helped reposition the wearable as a way to reduce COVID-19 transmission at the workplace. That’s one way that Kenzen and other manufacturers can help companies find a smart PPE solution now while opening the door for future conversations down the line.

To better understand what companies are planning, Verdantix interviewed 301 EHS decision makers across 31 countries and 25 industries for a 2020 survey on EHS budgets, priorities and technology preferences. Of these respondents, 74% were from firms with revenues greater than $1 billion and 71% held titles of director or above. When asked how their firm’s spending on PPE will change in 2021 compared to 2020, 51% say it will increase and 47% say it will not change. Of 15 categories, PPE reported the most planned increase in budget.

It’s worth noting that the survey category includes all kinds of PPE, both smart and traditional. PPE supplies have been front and center during the pandemic, both for employers trying to protect their workers and for workers trying to protect themselves and their families. That has led to unprecedented consumer and business demand for respirators, gloves, safety shields and other gear to prevent the spread of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

Part of what’s driving the all-time high demand is a need to maintain adequate inventory, a challenge since manufacturers are still trying to stabilize the supply chain. There’s also a growing recognition that it will take longer than initially hoped before a majority of the population is vaccinated, so these COVID-19 safety precautions will need to continue for the coming months.

In the meantime, employers can face penalties for not protecting workers, and they will likely be held to higher standards in the new administration. In President Joseph R. Biden’s first week in office, he signed an executive order directing the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) with issuing new COVID-19 guidance to keep workers safe.

“The EHS function has been digitizing slowly over the past several years,” Pennington says. “It’s a laggard compared to operations and other business units, but COVID-19 has actually accelerated it because people have realized they can’t do their job the same way without leveraging digital technologies.”

What’s Next

d’Arjuzon adds that for months, many companies haven’t been in a position to pilot or purchase new technologies or smart PPE. They’ve leveraged what tools, data and information they already had to help mitigate risk of COVID-19 exposure. As the pandemic wears on, employers of all sizes must be more forward-looking while acknowledging an unpredictable future.

“In an emergency, you don’t necessarily look at cool cutting-edge innovations,” he says. “You look at what works, what’s proven, what you already have, what you can make do with, what can be ordered in quantity and what you can deploy really quickly.”

We’re by no means out of the COVID-19 woods yet but what’s around the corner is starting to come into focus.

“Safety leadership can see the light at the end of the tunnel and a return to normal operations in 2021, including the unthawing of the budgeting freezes that affected many organizations in 2020,” says Robert Thomma, vice president of EHS sales Americas for Bodytrak. “They have a thirst for new technologies that can help them keep their workers safe, and they are ready to start exploring what’s out there.”

Bodytrak is a wearable for physiological monitoring of key vital signs such as core body temperature, heart rate, VO2 and motion (including fall detection). The in-ear device also provides two-way audio communications and features both hearing protection and ambient sound transparency.

Thomma says many companies they’ve spoken with deferred buying decisions in 2020 because of uncertainty surrounding COVID-19. Now, those that have continued operating throughout the pandemic feel comfortable adding Bodytrak to their worker safety toolkit.

There’s optimism to be sure, but there are still barriers to adopting smart PPE. As more companies resume or start investing in smart PPE, they are faced with the same thorny questions and concerns that have plagued smart PPE for years. How do companies protect worker privacy? What happens if the devices malfunction and an accident occurs? How do companies encourage employees to wear and engage with the technology? There are no easy answers to these and other questions. But maybe COVID-19 has reminded companies and workers alike what really matters: Going home and having a family dinner at the end of the day.

“The companies that we work with are forward-thinking, and what they told us is, ‘If something bad happens, we’re going to get sued. We would much rather have the opportunity to try to find something and fix it before it happens. It’s the right thing to do, and we think it will make us look better for our employees that we care. We’re trying to be proactive. We’re investing in technology to try and make them safer,’” says Gabe Glynn, CEO and co-founder of MākuSafe, an armband wearable that gathers real-time data on environmental conditions, potentially hazardous human motion, proximity and other risks. The device also allows workers to record voice memos and other observations.

Read the entire article here.