There’s an app for that...

20 January 2016

Andrea Bowen, technical product manager at Casella, explains why soon we’ll all be bringing our own mobile devices to the noise and dust monitoring party.

From sleep patterns to fitness trackers, the chances are you will use at least one app as part of your everyday routine. For the vast majority of people an app will be the first thing they see in the morning and the last thing they see at night, including newsfeeds, organisational apps and alarm clocks. As mobile phones and technology become ever more mainstream, it is hard to ignore the obvious benefits to our working life, so it makes sense that, by connecting our noise and dust monitoring equipment to our mobile devices via Bluetooth, the health and safety industry can embrace these developments too.

At the end of 2014, The Independent reported that there were officially more mobile phones in the world than people. In the same quarter, Forbes magazine reported that app downloads for 2014 were expected to reach approximately 179,628billion, while predicting that downloads are expected to reach 268,692bn by 2017, based on data collected from the Apple app store alone. Apple currently offers users 1.4million apps for its compatible devices according to a report from the company in January 2016.

With such a large number of both devices and apps in use, industries such as construction and manufacturing would undoubtedly benefit from the advantages that come with embracing mobile technology when it comes safety on a construction site or workshop floor.

Alongside the growing impact of mobile devices and technology, the awareness of exposure to dangerous noise and dust levels continues to increase. Such hazards in the workplace can - and do - lead to long term damage and illnesses. With this in mind the BOHS, the Chartered Society for Worker Health Protection, is now offering guidance on how to reduce occupational lung disease through its Breathe Freely initiative, whilst the British Safety Industry Federation (BSIF) is raising awareness of the dangers of occupational hearing loss with its Listen Today, Hear Tomorrow campaign.

Monitoring of noise levels is key as hearing protection should only be used as a temporary measure or last resort when no other options are available. 10m people in the UK have some degree of hearing loss and that figure is expected to rise to around 14.5m by 2031. In order to improve this, the implementation of effective noise monitoring is essential and dust monitoring is no less important.

In 2015, it’s estimated that 3500 died from cancer caused by past exposures to asbestos, 500 more from silica dust, another 5500 were diagnosed with occupational cancer, and - today alone - an unknown but significant number will breathe in the hazardous substances that will one day seriously affect their health or kill them.

By effectively monitoring both noise and dust exposure, the impact of working conditions on the health of workers will be significantly improved, leading to fewer long term illnesses.

In order to implement the monitoring needed by an occupational hygienist or health and safety professional, it must be done in a way that does not impact upon the comfort or productivity of the worker. It is often remarked that: “We’d like the capability to monitor the device remotely without the need to interfere with or disturb the worker,” and with the use of mobile devices and apps, we are able to easily overcome this.

Through the use of Bluetooth and apps, occupational hygienists and health and safety professionals are no longer required to physically follow workers throughout the day in order to successfully monitor their working conditions. Be it in a confined space, a unique environment or over a long distance or period of time, there’s no need to disturb the wearer from what they’re doing.

This inspired technological development allows the health and safety professional to view the status of the pump, or even start, stop and pause the noise or dust monitoring device directly from an app on their mobile device. With the addition of a motion sensor to ensure wearer compliance, the chances of invalid data are diminished and therefore confidence in the results is greatly increased, meaning that the data is more than sufficient for formulating risk assessments and control decisions.

If mobile devices and apps are such an integral part of life outside of our working environments, why shouldn’t they have ‘app-positive’ impact on the way we work too? Our ability to improve the occupational health of both ourselves and our colleagues is of uppermost importance, so perhaps soon we’ll be saying BYOD – bring your own device - to work!