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Exploring the need for advanced body monitoring

We’ve talked a lot about the technology but not a great deal about why there’s a need for the kind of continuous monitoring that Bodytrak brings. Here are three industry examples which give some useful background and context to the development of Bodytrak.

Advancing Soldier Safety

Defence personnel often push themselves to the physical limit in the pursuit of their public duties. Combined with heavy kit - an average of around 55-60kgs - full combat gear, boots, weapons, extreme environments and temperatures - duty can take its toll. As a result, one of the biggest challenges for defence personnel on missions in hot climates is heat stress caused by the body’s inability to thermoregulate properly.

The British Medical Journal defines heat stress where the core body temperature reaches 40°C with central nervous system (CNS) dysfunction, which can lead to delirium, coma and in worst cases, death.

In 2016, “superfit” Cpl Joshua Hoole died after an eight-mile test march in the Brecon Beacons on the hottest day of the year. Just three years earlier, three SAS candidates died in similar conditions around Pen-y-Fan, the highest peak in southern Britain (Brecon). These are extreme cases, but heat stress in milder forms - heat cramps and heat exhaustion - is a common occurrence where a soldier may become dehydrated, delirious, and unable to perform to the best of their abilities. This can impact operational effectiveness, require possible emergency evacuation, loss of manpower or worse. The 2016 incident has refocused scrutiny on the measures that military organisations, like the MoD, are putting in place to keep personnel safer in challenging conditions. Bodytrak was developed in direct response to these tragedies.

Health and Safety for Industrial Workers

Likewise, construction workers accept that certain risks to health and safety are an inherent part of their job and/or working environments. While health and safety standards have improved, mitigation of all risks and dangers within the job cannot be comprehensive. Despite new health and safety fines being introduced in February 2016, the value of fines collected by Health and Safety Executive (HSE) in the last year has dramatically increased to £12.96m, up 83% from £7.09m for the same period the year before (according to a recent report by law firm, Clyde & Co).

The HSE reported 27 construction worker deaths at work last year, with the majority of those attributed to falls from a height or vehicle accidents. The three biggest safety hazards on construction sites are widely acknowledged to be excavations, working at height and movement of vehicles and plant machinery. Falls and tumbles account for a significant number of incidents each year, and if a lone worker falls, it may go undetected for a longer period of time. A recent high profile case at EDF’s Hinkley Power Plant saw a worker fall and crack vertebrae, resulting in the Office for Nuclear Regulation investigation citing ‘gaps in compliance of legal requirements’ and EDF was served an improvement notice. Other risks to construction workers health may include heat stroke or cardiac strain, resulting from confined, overly hot or fume-filled environments. Beyond these immediate symptoms, noise induced hearing loss following regular exposure to excessive noise from machinery or plant equipment is becoming a commonplace concern for employees and their employers.

Technologies like Bodytrak, that can monitor falls as well as heat stroke or fatigue, are a realistic consideration for construction companies looking to significantly improve worker safety.

Monitoring Firefighters in Action

Among the many threats that firefighters face daily, heat stress is perhaps the most dangerous. Firefighters are routinely exposed to temperatures exceeding 500 degrees Fahrenheit in training, with temperatures in the average house fire often rising to 1500 degrees Fahrenheit. In larger incidents where there’s a risk of flashover or backdraft, firefighters can encounter 2000 degrees Fahrenheit or more. Workers in the Fire and Rescue Service (FRS) operate in the most dangerous and high pressure environments imaginable. According to statistics from the University of Stirling, the period between 2004/05 and 2013/14 saw the deaths of 14 service personnel in the UK – more than double the number of fatalities compared to the previous period (six deaths between 1993/94 and 2003/04). This might not seem a large number but, when considering the relatively small workforce, these figures are significant.

Presently, tympanic (eardrum) temperature spot (single) monitoring is most commonly used in training across UK FRS, although it is not mandated. It’s a medically approved and economical method of monitoring a reference of body temperature, but limitations exist to the ability to record in real-time. In some instances, a tympanic reading is taken before entering a training fire and again upon exit. A major drawback to this methodology is that firefighters can’t be monitored mid-exercise, at the most critical time, so the real effects of heat stress cannot currently be understood in order to effectively prevent against heat stroke and long term physiological damage.

When putting the development of Bodytrak into context, it’s easy to see why it is now being used in over 40 trials with international defence organisations, energy, sports, construction and healthcare companies as well as a host of fire and rescue services.

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