U.K. Technology Company Tracking Vibration Exposure Expands to Connected-Worker Solution

By Claire Swedberg

Reactec is preparing the launch of a system to monitor the conditions and locations of employees, ensuring their safety and enabling them to summon help, via HF RFID labels on tools and ID badges from CoreRFID.

Reactec, a provider of hand and arm vibration syndrome (HAVS) technologies, is expanding its HAVwear RFID solution that captures data regarding how tools are being used and when personnel are at risk from excess vibration exposure. The system, first released in 2016, uses RFID technology to link a particular worker with a specific piece of equipment. More recently, the company has been planning to offer more analytics that will allow businesses to track other data about the locations and statuses of personnel, including when they may require emergency assistance.

Reactec's wearable HAVwear device, designed for the construction, civil engineering and manufacturing industries

The Connected Worker solution, slated to be released at the end of May 2019, will include an additional device that can be worn by personnel. Connected Worker, as well as existing HAVwear systems, comes with HF 13.56 MHz on-metal labels compliant with the ISO 15693 standard, which were supplied by Core RFID.

Leif Anderson

Reactec sells its wearable technology and data-analytics system for health and safety in the construction and heavy equipment operations industries. The company is an Edinburgh University spinoff that initially offered vibration consulting, according to Leif Anderson, Reactec's chief technology officer. The firm provided assistance with questions from construction firms related to vibration. Eventually, one client approached the company seeking a technology-based solution to HAVS.

The early version of the HAVwear system was an RFID-based device that could be attached to tools, Anderson says—but that, he notes, was "a large bulky device with ergonomics shortcomings, and it didn't track interactions with humans." In 2014, the firm began developing technology that could be wearable. Its engineers built a device resembling a ruggedized wristwatch that workers in the construction, civil engineering and manufacturing sectors could wear.

A user can put the device on his or her wrist at the beginning of each shift, and the device will then capture the unique ID number of the HF RFID tag on any tool used by that individual, thereby tracking the level of vibration exposure based on his or her time with that tool. At the end of the shift, the wristband is placed in a docking station, where data can be uploaded to a server and viewed by management or that employee.

The HF labels were developed to withstand construction environments, yet still allow a user to write tool details to it, says Richard Harrison, CoreRFID's technical sales director. The most recent version of the label was designed in 2016 to be highly durable for the construction environment, with an adhesive strong enough to enable the device to be mounted onto a variety of surface materials.

HAVwear, released in 2016, was deployed by construction equipment rental company Speedy Services (see Speedy Services Manages Vibration, Conference Attendance, Equipment Rental via RFID). Since that time, the company has been working on firmware upgrades, as well as on building a Bluetooth radio into the wristband that could transmit data directly to a supervisor's mobile phone. The company also released a HAVwear app to allow supervisors to view data on their smartphones in real time.

Additionally, Reactec has added analytics features, enabling management to better identify trends regarding tool usage and the amount of vibration exposure caused by specific tools. "It's all about prevention," Anderson states. If the software identifies that a worker is regularly exposed to a large amount of mechanical vibration, for instance, a company can provide him or her with retraining to modify that person's behavior and improve his or her health.

Those already using the HAVwear system are still leveraging the docking station for the wearable devices to recharge batteries, and to link users with their wristbands. The docking station comes with an HF RFID reader, while operators typically carry RFID-enabled cards. Therefore, as a staff member begins a shift and takes a wristband, he or she also presents his or her own ID card, which contains an encoded unique ID linked to that individual. In that way, the software can assign that wristband to that specific employee.

Thus far, Anderson reports, 25,000 of the wearable devices have been shipped to 650 companies, including construction firms and manufacturers. With the Connected Worker system, however, a new device is being introduced. The company needed sensor and connectivity technology with sufficient battery power to manage culled data from multiple sensors, as well as to send data via a cellular connection. Therefore, the device, which is about the size of a deck of cards, can be attached to a belt rather than being worn on a wristband. Its built-in sensors include a motion detector, an accelerometer, a gyroscope, a pressure sensor, GPS functionality, 2-G mobile and Bluetooth, with a color LED screen.

The device's sensors can be used for fall detection to identify when a worker may need assistance. It can also be manually triggered by an operator who requires help. A user can simply press a button on the device, and it will then forward its GPS-based location, along with the unique ID of the individual to whom the device is assigned. What's more, the system could track other environmental risks, such as ultraviolet exposure, provided that UV sensors were built into the device.

Reactec makes its own hardware, including RFID readers that interrogate the tags provided by CoreRFID. The latter has been providing tags to Reactec since the original tool-tagging system was launched in 2007. "We're now taking preorders and are shipping in May," Anderson states. "We have a pretty aggressive development schedule, so betas and pilots start next month" with Reactec's customers.