Fitness Tracking Devices Not Fit for Monitoring Oil, Gas Worker Health, Safety

by Karen Boman, Senior Editor

A surge in wearable fitness devices such as Fitbit has been seen in recent years as people sought motivation to exercise and monitor their health by tracking factors such as heart rate, number of steps taken and quality of sleep.

Wearable health tracker devices are usually the first thing that comes to mind when the topic of the Internet of Things (IoT) arises. Dave McCarthy, product director with BSquare Corporation, sees limited usage for Fitbits in oil and gas environments, but does see two major limitations to their widespread use in oil and gas. Fitbits and consumer-oriented wearables are not usually built to withstand the rugged environments – with high temperatures and high soot – in which the oil and gas industry operates, McCarthy told Rigzone. In his discussions regarding health track devices in the medical industry, McCarthy found that readings obtained from consumer-grade health tracker devices are all over the place.

“They’re good for determining trends, but not reliable for accurate readings,” said McCarthy.

Instead, he is seeing more companies focused on industrial wearables. These devices are not specifically focused on health tracking, but are vertically focused for the types of industries in which they’re used. McCarthy is seeing other use cases such as devices that can track where coworkers are in a refinery, giving them alerts if they’re in a safety zone with certain restrictions. These devices are also allowing for more value-added cases, such as giving information to a worker about the equipment operating in their field of vision.

The oil and gas customers with whom BSquare works are looking to leverage data coming off smart devices to increase the efficiency, productivity and safety of operations. These companies are looking to industrial wearables to help achieve these three objectives, McCarthy said, and low oil prices will continue driving that trend.

“I absolutely predict that companies will use wearables to become more efficient,” said McCarthy. Instead of running around with clipboards, oil and gas workers will be able to cover more ground and be more effective; this is a trend that McCarthy is seeing across a number of industries.

Companies in the oil and gas space are trying to figure out how to remain in compliance with regulations. They also are grappling with doing more with less in light of recent capital expenditure cutbacks. While the amount of data collected in oil and gas operations has grown, industry hasn’t actually collected as much data from people walking around the facility floor. Wearables can allow people to become “walking instruments of data collection”, McCarthy said.

Some industries are putting sensors throughout a plant to detect safety hazards, but getting coverage everywhere is expensive. Instead of blanketing a refinery with sensors, making these sensors mobile by associating them with people to get more pertinent, real-time information is a better option, McCarthy said. In some cases, McCarthy could see companies banning personal devices from plants if it’s thought they might negatively impact operations.

Biometrics is another solution that companies can use to monitor oil and gas worker safety and health. However, biometrics presents data privacy issues – such as who has the right to see what data. McCarthy expects to see more efforts to define data privacy laws.

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