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Safety Harnesses Get Smart

A provider of personal fall-protection equipment has launched an RFID-based system that lets users track the status of their safety gear.
By Claire Swedberg
Jun 15, 2006Capital Safety has released an RFID-based system for its DBI-SALA fall-protection harnesses that allows users to better track where their harnesses are, who is using them and when they were most recently inspected.

For organizations with employees working in high areas, such as on bridges or oil rigs, safety harnesses are designed to keep those workers protected in the event of a fall. Every DBI-SALA harness sold is now embedded with a 134.2 kHz RFID tag, its unique RFID serial number printed on the harness itself.

With the i-Safe Intelligent Safety System, companies can purchase a PDA device with a CompactFlash RFID interrogator. When a harness goes into a warehouse for storage or to a job site, for example, or gets inspected before a specific employee uses it, a company can use the PDA to read the harness tag at a distance of up to 6 inches. Data about each harness—such as its tag's unique serial number and any details keyed in by the construction company crews, such as inspection status—is made available to the construction company via a Web portal. After establish a Bluetooth connection to a laptop or desktop PC, the PDA uses Microsoft's ActiveSync utility to upload its data in XML format. The company must first enroll in the i-Safe system (participation is free) and receive a password to access its own data on the Web portal.

A tagged DBI-SALA harness costs the same as the previous nontagged version, says the company's vice president of marketing, Bill Schultz. "It will be a standard part of the product offering," he explains. "If you buy a harness as of this week, the RFID tag will be part of the product." For companies already using DBI-SALA harnesses, he notes, Capital Safety is selling tags for $5 that can attach to existing equipment.

The RFID-enabled PDA costs between $500 and $750. Even if a company does not buy a PDA, it can still use the Web portal to record harness data by utilizing a PC to key in the tag serial number and other information. "However, you lose the advantage of RFID," Schultz says, since with no RFID interrogator at the work site, the tag number would not automatically be read. Currently, safety-harness users keep paper logs at the work site to track their equipment and its inspections. This means that a company has no access to such information until employees return the paperwork to the office at the end of the day, and that if the company wants an electronic record, it must then enter that data into a computer. Alternatively, a non-RFID PDA or PC at the work site can record details about the equipment, but cannot do it with a simple RFID read.

Most safety equipment must be inspected on a regular basis, in keeping with requirements from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), as well as insurance companies, state regulators and often a work site's owner. With the automated RFID system, details about the inspections are available electronically at the work site and also at the company's office via the Web portal—assuming the availability of an Internet connection through a PC or laptop at those locations. This makes it easier for a company to ensure its harnesses all comply with safety requirements. If a harness has not been inspected, or if it was inspected and found to be faulty, the portal would make that information readily available.

Construction companies seek ways to motivate compliance on the job site by making safety compliance easier, Schultz says—for instance, by using an RFID interrogator to read a harness tag's serial number, as opposed to filling out paperwork. They also want better inventory control of safety harnesses, and increased worker productivity. According to Schultz, this system attempts to address all of these goals by making it easy for employees to locate safety equipment, update inspection information and provide inspection data to agencies.
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