Issues, Innovation and Impact of Wearable Technology on Health and Safety in Agriculture

Image of Apple Watch on wrist with user activating button.
Wearable Technology has a wide range of uses in agriculture.

We are in the process of growing a Wearable Technology Learning Network (WTLN) within eXtension.org. With the rapid expansion of wearable devices on the market, the opportunity for innovation is great. Along with this rapid growth come new issues and the opportunity for impact. One area of potential impact for wearable technology is with the health and safety of agricultural workers. The sensors available in off the shelf fitness trackers are viable for monitoring worker health.

For example, I have been working for over a year with the Microsoft Band to determine the usability of the sensors on this device in safety and health applications. It started with a Microsoft funded project to correlate the internal temperature of the study subjects to the biometric measurements from the band, such as heart rate and skin temperature. Many of these devices have been designed to optimize the performance of peak athletes, but they have been found to be useful in measuring biometrics that can be used to monitor worker health and safety.

Sensor block from the Microsoft Band.
Sensor block from the Microsoft Band.

A more recent example is using the Band to monitor workers’ heart rates when they are working around heavy and automated machinery. If the worker’s heart rate spikes, that is most likely a sign of something going wrong. This signals the machinery to disengage or shut down. This process is currently being explored for commercialization.

Another issue that has the potential to be mitigated with wearable technology is heat illness in field workers. According to OSHA, heat illness is a very serious problem in outdoor workers. The wearable technology’s monitoring capabilities allows for alerts to be sent to workers and/or their supervisors when the technology detects signs of heat illness like raised heart rates or dehydration.

More information on the WTLN can be found on the community’s page.

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