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First Aid for First-Aid Kits

The Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory developed a smart first-aid storage cabinet that secures the supplies placed inside with a mechanical lock linked to an RFID reader.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Jun 01, 2008—When you're at work and need a bandage from the first-aid kit to treat a cut, the last thing you think about is reporting the item to your company. It's a common occurrence that results in a lot of understocked first-aid kits in workplaces.

"Most employers have rules about reporting injuries or using first-aid supplies, but those rules are not always followed," says Peter Lichty, occupational medical director at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the U.S. Department of Energy's National Laboratory for science and engineering research, managed by the University of California.

Back in the mid-1990s, the first-aid kits located throughout the lab were often pillaged, making them insufficient for supplies in an emergency. In reaction, the lab's management decided to do away with the kits altogether. The facility operates an on-site clinic, so it established a new policy: You get injured, you go to the clinic. But that left employees who often work well past office hours without access to first aid during those times.

To address the problem, Lichty and some of his colleagues invented a smart first-aid storage cabinet. It secures the supplies placed inside with a mechanical lock linked to an RFID reader. To access the supplies after normal business hours, an employee must hold his or her RFID-based ID badge up to the RFID reader mounted on the cabinet. The reader captures the ID encoded to the tag and sends it to a back-end database. If the database shows that the ID is issued to a current employee, software controlling the reader triggers the cabinet to unlock.

The software also sends an e-mail message to Lichty that includes the name of the employee, the location of the cabinet and the time of day it was opened. "This e-mail lets me do two important things," Lichty says. "It allows me to contact the person who opened the cabinet to ask how he or she is feeling, and to dispatch someone to quickly restock the first-aid kit that was opened."

Berkeley Lab is hoping to license the patent-pending design of the first-aid storage cabinet to manufacturers interested in offering the RFID-based system to other workplaces. While the lab uses an access-control system provided by GE Security, the patent it filed doesn't specify a make, model or frequency of the RFID tags and readers that could be used.
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