How wireless connectivity is changing the landscape of workplace safety

Nearly three million Americans were injured at work in 2018, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

A lack of communication or misunderstanding of safety measures often caused these incidents. Workplace-related injuries are estimated to cost U.S. employers around 171 billion dollars annually.

With technological advancements, people and organizations are better connected than ever before. This includes wireless mesh networks, a type of computer network architecture in which a series of nodes (or devices) interlink and relay data to one another to establish a wireless connectivity network for other devices.

As for workplaces, advanced connectivity offers many advantages. It allows improved communication between employees on and off the floor, a central command center that includes connected monitoring and safety systems, and the reduction of human error to help prevent workplace injuries.

Improved, hands-free communication on the work floor

Strong communication networks can improve safety in various ways in a workplace, from ensuring safety announcements are heard by all employees to immediate reporting of incidents and other safety concerns. Manufacturing plants are typically loud, distracting environments. For decades, communication in plants relied on hand signals or ineffective shouting, eventually evolving to the slightly better two-way radio. Technology has advanced to help in this situation, most notably with noise-canceling headphones and hard hats with built-in comms systems. These items improve team communication and facilitate worker safety, but they rely on wireless connections to ensure they are working correctly.

Top-tier mesh networks provide an improved experience for manufacturers. They do not require complicated onsite installation but instead utilize extremely mobile antennas that are built into the devices themselves, with each device becoming a node or supporting a point of connectivity for the wireless network. This architecture ensures better coverage for every device, no matter their location in the plant, and allows for multiple routes to transmit data during emergencies.

Streamlining security feeds and command center activity

Video cameras and safety monitoring systems are essential to the protection and security of the workplace. A well-connected command center allows managers and employers to view live feeds, monitor certain assets in real time, and make well-informed decisions on how to prevent and reduce workplace injuries or security hazards.

Live video feeds, fire prevention systems, and location monitoring devices backed by a mesh wireless network enable managers to take quick corrective actions. Connectivity in the workplace can allow operators to signal things like collisions or spills, halting work immediately where necessary and responding with greater speed and efficiency/information to correct the incident.

Mesh networks are a valuable tool for improving the safety efforts of a workplace through reliable security, real-time live feeds and decision-making, and emergency response. Similarly to how cities have used mesh networking to enhance communication between first responders, workplaces can do the same, enabling “smart workplaces” in place of “smart cities.”

Real-time safety monitoring allows for enhanced awareness, visibility, and informed decision-making. All factors lead to greater productivity and operational efficiency no matter the industry.

Reducing human error to prevent workplace injuries

Many of the most effective ways to reduce workplace injuries, thus increasing workplace safety and productivity, is by removing the human aspect altogether. Many injuries result from human error, from being negligent of or misunderstanding safety protocols to simply being overworked or too tired.

In that case, things like wearable biometric technology can measure bodily indicators to detect levels of alertness in employees. Utilized in tandem with monitoring systems that can track employee performance, and if protocols are being adhered to, human error can be greatly reduced across the board.

The National Safety Council (NSC) reports that 71 percent of workplaces utilize robotics, 47 percent use sensors or detectors, 35 percent use software, 29 percent have implemented wearable technology for their employers, and another 18 percent use a mobile app. These technologies are extremely promising and are reminiscent of early twentieth-century sci-fi movies. However, they cannot bring about the operational benefit they intend without an advanced network supporting them.

Keeping workplaces safe by connecting workplace assets

Corporate assets are increasingly information-based. Connected devices and people are sources of data, which, if carried through a reliable communication network with military-grade encryption options, can fortify monitoring, mitigation, situational awareness, management, and response.

Corporate assets are also increasingly mobile and operate autonomously. The use of air, land, and sea robots is integrated into a company’s security workforce to protect guards from dangerous, at-risk tasks. Robotic technology augments comprehensive perimeter surveillance and is a source of 24/7, continuous data from onboard audio, video, and sensors. The data-sharing and device cross-communication require robust connectivity and over-the-air encryption.

Advanced mesh networks can provide end-to-end information assurance across a network – and, with high capacity via multi-radio, multi-frequency architecture, support bandwidth-intensive security applications like those used for video surveillance and real-time situational awareness. Fully mobile network mesh technology employs any-node to any-node communications, so there is no single point of failure when protecting business-critical applications.

To clarify, when we say advanced mesh, we are not referring to what is known as Wi-Fi mesh.  We are referring to an actual ad-hoc peer-to-peer mesh network. There are a couple of distinctions. First, Wi-Fi mesh clients can only have a single active connection to network infrastructure. In an advanced mesh, clients can communicate directly with other clients or with infrastructure. This provides for continuous connectivity by eliminating the hand-off and improves network speed by eliminating convergence. Convergence is the process of a Wi-Fi client disconnecting from a Wi-Fi router and then reconnecting to another. It also involves a communication pause while the LAN runs a spanning tree to prevent host flapping. The hope of Wi-Fi providers is this process will only take a few seconds, but that is a few seconds with no communication. In the case of a business running autonomous robots, those few seconds are often the cause of stoppage.

Reliability and adaptability are essential for the networks connecting the various technologies that businesses deploy. Mesh networks—like Rajant Kinetic Mesh ®—have proven to excel at providing strong connectivity and adjusting to any gaps or malfunctions in the system to ensure devices stay connected. Furthermore, its structure can be easily rearranged to increase or decrease the area of coverage to fit the needs of businesses.

Two things are certain: More industries are adopting new technologies in the hopes that they will boost productivity and generate an advantage that was not realized without them. And those technologies will require a sufficient network to deliver its intended benefit. One could take multiple avenues to facilitate such a network, but the most optimal option is mesh networking.

About the author

Todd Rigby is the Director of Sales at Rajant Corporation. For more than 25 years, Todd Rigby has been deploying communications systems and technology solutions across multiple industries. He has successfully helped numerous companies with various digitization and Industry 4.0 initiatives. These efforts have improved safety, productivity, asset utilization, and output. Todd has first-hand experience with many different communication technologies, and their application to various industrial use cases. He is the subject matter expert in the United States for Mining, Heavy Construction, Agriculture, Material Processing, Manufacturing and Warehousing for Rajant Corporation, a leading industrial wireless mesh networking company. Todd has helped to develop Rajant’s Partner sales channel throughout the United States, Canada, Central and South America, Australia, and Africa. Before his employment at Rajant, Todd ran a prominent technology integrator and was Rajant’s first reseller Partner.

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