A systems thinking approach is important when adopting wearables in your organization.
Managing an organization or facility, especially in high-risk or safety critical industries, means that a systems thinking approach is important -- it would be terrible, for example, to engineer a perfectly efficient or effective production process that injured or killed operators. But reducing the risk associated with wearables requires this approach, and in particular, requires taking a look at the unintended consequences that might emerge when your organization decides to adopt and roll out wearable technologies to the workforce.
Some examples of industrial wearables are:
- Headsets that help you identify and connect with experts who can provide help and support
- Sensors that monitor vital signs like body temperature, blood pressure, heart rate and physical strain, that can be used to provide additional support or remove employees when they are overexerted
- Gas detection devices that can alert employees when exposures pass recommended thresholds, or when the worker enters an area that is dangerous (e.g. an empty chemical tank that has not been properly cleaned)
- Glasses that can project standard operating procedures and other essential process information based on a worker’s field of view
Costlin et al. (2019), however, warn that using IoT sensors in wearables can increase financial risk, safety risk, and process risk due to unintended consequences associated with use. Because of these unintended consequences, organizations should carefully consider the timing and extent of their decisions to deploy wearables. These include:
- “Unintended modification of behavior;
- Unintended creation of big datasets, and repercussions of their use and misuse;
- Unintended privacy and security issues which are specific to wearable devices;
- Unanticipated challenges facing regulatory bodies, which must somehow regulate both the safety and security of wearable devices and associated apps which interpret the acquired data.”
Vigliarolo (2019) calls some of these issues out as barriers to adoption, and suggests that companies are not adopting wearables more quickly because of the risks. He notes that “data security and privacy issues are both mentioned as potential issues. There's reason to believe that these concerns are valid, too: Industrial IoT adoption, which arguably contains wearables, has made the manufacturing industry a ripe target for attack.”
The advice from both parties is clear: wearables with embedded IoT may have benefits, but bring them into your organization only with awareness of the risks introduced by unintended consequences.
Costlin, A., Wehle, A., & Adibfar, A. (2019). Leading Indicators—A Conceptual IoT-Based Framework to Produce Active Leading Indicators for Construction Safety. Safety, 5(4), 86.
Vigliarolo, B. (2019, December 31). Wearable industrial tech is coming to a production line near you. TechRepublic.
Enright, G. (2019) Wearables: What You Need To Know, Intelex.
About the Author: Nicole M. Radziwill, PhD, MBA, is SVP, Quality & Strategy, at Ultranauts. She is a Fellow for the American Society for Quality (ASQ) , and editor for Software Quality Professional.