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Protecting Employees

During an emergency, RFID personnel safety solutions can help you locate workers in real time.
By Minda Zetlin
Jan 19, 2014

Roughly 10 years ago, radio frequency identification providers began offering personnel safety solutions to monitor workers on offshore oil rigs and in other hazardous environments. In the event of an emergency, these solutions allow com­panies to view workers' locations in real time to see who made it safely to muster stations and who needs to be rescued.

Identec Solutions, for example, launched WatcherOffShore in 2003 to monitor workers on oil rigs in the North Sea (see Active UHF RFID Tags Muster Support for Oil Rigs). Since then, adoption has been growing, and the company predicts that within five years, all North Sea oil rigs will use active RFID tags to track personnel.

Photo: iStockphoto
Often, personnel safety solutions are deployed in conjunction with real-time location systems (RTLS) designed to track assets. Mexican oil-industry maintenance and transportation company Cotemar, for example, uses an RFID solution from AeroScout to automatically monitor employees, and the services they use, on four offshore platforms that serve as their living quarters while they work on oil rigs in the Gulf (see Cotemar Uses RTLS to Manage Safety, Supplies for Offshore Oil Workers).

Several years ago, RTLS providers developed personnel safety solutions that enable hospitals to monitor caregivers who work on emergency and psychiatric wards, where it's not uncommon for them to be assaulted by patients. Florida's Flagler Hospital, for example, recently deployed Ekahau's Staff Safety & Workflow Optimization within its behavioral-health unit (see Flagler Hospital Improves Caregiver Communications With Ekahau's RFID-Over-Wi-Fi). Many hospitals that employ RFID to track assets add on staff safety applications in their emergency rooms, says Mark Norris, Ekahau's CEO.

Photo: GuardRFID
In early 2013, Idaho's Skyview High School learned about the staff safety solution deployed at Napa State Hospital (see California State Hospitals Expand Personal-Duress System). The school contacted Ekahau, which modified its health-care solution for the education sector. Now, Skyview teachers and other staff members can press a button on a badge to call for help in an emergency (see Idaho School Installs RTLS to Make Students Safer). Since then, Ekahau has deployed the solution at six other U.S. secondary schools and says many other schools have expressed interest in it. Airista and GuardRFID also offer safety solutions for the education sector.

Unlike other RFID applications, deciding whether to deploy a personnel safety solution is typically not determined by return on investment. In all these settings, using RFID to track personnel can make the difference between life and death. Still, employing these solutions in industrial and other sectors can help companies comply with the U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration requirements for emergency evacuation plans, says Zahir Abji, CEO of GuardRFID.

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