Wearables Designed to Protect Workers from Heat Exhaustion Take on New Relevance after Warmest Year on Record

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By Elizabeth Stokes | 1Q 2024 | IN-7250

Industrial companies are increasingly investing in biometric sensors for outdoor workers as global temperatures hit unparalleled levels last year.

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Extreme Weather Threatens Industrial Workers Worldwide


Biometric sensors are playing a new, vital role in workplace safety initiatives as temperatures reached unprecedented levels last year. According to several scientific agencies, 2023 was the hottest year on record by a substantial factor. Last year’s extreme weather was of particular threat to industrial workers required to work outside or in un-air-conditioned spaces for extended periods. Internet of Things (IoT) wearables that track internal body temperature and heart rate can help protect these workers against heat exhaustion or heatstroke and are likely to become more popular as experts warn the coming year could be even hotter.

Companies Investing in Biometric Sensors in Pilot Programs to Protect Employees


Extreme heat results in more deaths than any other weather event in the United States, beating out hurricanes, floods, and tornadoes. The most common heat-related injuries are heatstroke or heat exhaustion, which often manifest in symptoms like confusion, nausea, headache, and high body temperature. Each condition can be life-threatening, requiring immediate emergency assistance.

IoT wearables that track internal body temperature and heart rate can detect signs of an impending health threat, with some solutions sending an alert to employees to take a break if their vitals reach concerning levels. Last summer, several companies tested wearable sensors in trial initiatives, hoping that the technology would keep outdoor employees safe as summer temperatures broke records worldwide.

Last year, a small fraction of workers at a Rogers-O'Brien construction site in Dallas, Texas, wore commercially available fitness trackers to monitor for heat-related injuries. Workers could opt into the pilot program and use either a Polar Verity Sense sensor or a Garmin watch to track their biometric readings and connect to SafeGuard, a real-time health monitoring app through which employees can read their vitals. SafeGuard can integrate with commercially available sensors and send alerts to notify employees’ supervisors of impending health threats, hopefully before a significant heat-related health injury occurs.

Texas is a particularly dangerous state for heat-related injuries, reporting the most on-the-job heat-related deaths in the country since 2011. Three high-profile heat-related deaths last year of a construction worker, a utility repairman, and a postman rattled the state and resulted in increased demands for additional protections for outdoor workers. Rogers-O'Brien management told the Dallas Morning News it expects that 90% of its hourly employees will eventually use the sensors.

Similarly, Emirates Global Aluminum (EGA), a United Arab Emirates (UAE) industrial company, announced last summer that more of its employees would work with wearable sensors that monitor heart rate, body temperature, and other biometric readings for the company’s “Beat the Heat” program. The sensors are from Kenzen, a worker health and safety company that also supplies devices for a similar heat-injury prevention initiative for the United States Border Patrol. Kenzen offers its own biometric devices, as well as a mobile app and a team-view dashboard for managers who can receive alerts if one of their employees is in danger.

Rising Temperatures Are a Unique (and Depressing) Opportunity for Wearable Companies


The IoT wellbeing wearables market is growing at a fast clip, with ABI Research forecasting that the market will experience a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 11% between 2025 and 2030. ABI Research estimates that by 2030, there will be 453 million wearable connections. Workplace safety initiatives help drive wearable connections—lone workers on industrial sites, for example, can use cellular or satellite sensors so management can track their location in remote workplaces. Hospitality workers, many of whom are often alone in large hotels, are often given connected panic buttons that can send alerts to the proper channels in the case of assault or harassment. However, IoT wearables specifically designed to detect heat-related illnesses will experience a unique upswing due to worsening temperatures and the sheer size of industrial markets.

The Total Addressable Market (TAM) for these devices is significant. Kenzen, the wearable brand used by EGA and the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, first targeted athletes with its products but soon realized that its biometric technology would be more useful for the “billions” of industrial workers who are at risk as global temperatures rise. Relevant markets with workers vulnerable to extreme heat include construction, mining, agriculture, utilities, and engineering, with many other verticals guaranteed to be impacted by climate change.

Additionally, scientists predict that the number of extremely hot days will increase in the future, meaning that more industrial workers will be at risk for longer. Fitness wearable companies should mirror Kenzen, recognizing that the demand for sensors that can detect this kind of occupational threat will grow in the near-term future. Sensor-agnostic software companies like Safeguard will be well-positioned as more companies adopt heat prevention initiatives. The growing need for heat-injury monitoring applications will collide with the increasing number of commercially available fitness trackers that employees can purchase on their own.

Industrial companies with outdoor workforces should similarly prepare for a warmer future. In the absence of federal on-the-job heat protections, companies should expect resistance from employees and workers' unions if they are not reactive to the quickly warming planet. Heat-related injuries were critical in last year's tense contract negotiations between UPS and its unionized workers. Unionized UPS employees threatened to strike—in what would have been one of the largest single-business strikes in U.S. history—if the company did not give its delivery employees proper heat protections and meet other workplace demands. Companies should recognize the physical and commercial threat that extreme heat poses as summer 2024 quickly approaches, bringing with it the potential for record-shattering, life-threatening temperatures.