Aaron Yoder 2017-10-25 01:56:51
As wearable and mobile devices and their software applications, or apps, become ubiquitous, their use in agriculture is expanding as well. A smart device paired with a well-designed app has great potential for improving workplace safety and health, if the user can act on the information that it provides. A wide variety of emerging technologies already exists for assessing workplace hazards and implementing worker protections. However, the abundance and diversity of these technologies can create challenges in evaluating them and assigning value. In agriculture, the first step in this process was to develop a framework for evaluating apps and other technologies that have potential application for worker safety and health. This framework exists and can be found in “An evaluation tool for agricultural health and safety mobile applications,” which appeared in the Journal of Agromedicine in 2016 (www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27494309). This evaluation framework is easily transferable for evaluating emerging technologies in a variety of areas. Over the past few years, researchers have explored the use of wearable technology, which was originally designed for the fitness industry, to protect agricultural workers. One example of this effort is the use of heart rate monitors to evaluate the ergonomics of tasks performed by agricultural workers. Researchers in other industries have found that heart rate monitors can measure an individual’s performance as well as health and wellness. In agriculture, this concept can be used to test how well tools fit the needs of individual users by monitoring each user’s heart rate. Research on this topic is being done in the Department of Agricultural Systems Management at the University of Missouri. Wearable devices have also been explored to monitor solitary workers and to detect the onset of heat-related illness. Researchers in the Department of Biological Systems Engineering at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) have explored these topics. Solitary workers are more likely to become injured and have poorer outcomes than workers who are supported by others. A partnership between Capstone design students at UNL and LoadOut Technologies, a 2011 AE50 Award winner, explored the use of heart rate monitors to protect workers near automated systems at grain handling facilities. A second project looked at monitoring the core body temperatures of agricultural workers who were exposed to high-temperature environments. The study found that core body temperature, which can be monitored through skin temperature and heart rate, is the best indicator of heat-related illness. As new technologies continue to emerge, we need to be prepared to evaluate them, and implement systems that can improve the safety and health of the agricultural workforce. With interdisciplinary collaborations, our profession is uniquely qualified to lead this effort. ASABE member Aaron Yoder, Assistant Professor, Department of Environmental, Agricultural and Occupational Health, College of Public Health, University of Nebraska Medical Center, Omaha, USA, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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