ISEA – the International Safety Equipment Association – is moving forward with a connected worker task group of member companies -- all safety equipment manufacturers -- to decide what actions are needed to ensure and advance safety in the broad, rapidly expanding field of connected worker devices. These “smart” products run the gamut from helmets, hi-vis clothing, respirators, other personal protective equipment, to physical wearables, gas detection instrumentation, mobile reporting apps, and sensors for machine guarding, confined space entry, and lockout-tagout.

The industrial wearables device market value is projected to grow to $2.78 billion by 2024, according to

Issues to consider

Charles Johnson, president of ISEA, says no decision has been made yet on actually writing a standard, or a suite of standards, or issuing guidance documents. An umbrella of issues fall under the connected worker/connected workplace category: data security, privacy, labeling, information-sharing programs, unique identifiers, bar codes, interoperability, how safety equipment can operate seamlessly within the Internet of Things (IoT). Manufacturers of different connected products focus on issues relating to their technology. RFID tags in hi-vis vests are a long way from biometric monitoring wearables or sensor-laden gas detectors.

“We don’t believe ISEA will solve all these issues,” says Johnson. We will participate with many organizations -- the Consumer Technology Association, the National Institute for Science and Technology, and many, many other groups.

“Industry is coalescing around some of these issues,” he says. “These conversations are happening now at ISEA. The work group we have formed will mobilize the safety industry and outside users – every vertical industry. I encourage people who are interested to contact me at ISEA. We have an open door policy; we have not formalized the roster of the work group.”

Top priorities

Privacy and data security are high on the list of issues. Michelle Schaap, an attorney with Chiesa Shahinian & Giantomasi PC, identified several areas of concern that ISEA might include in its discussions:

  • If the wearable includes some kind of alert with the purpose of getting the employee to stop work, then what if the employee continues to work?
  • Who else gets the alert — an onsite supervisor?
  • Will employees’ responses to alerts and other data be a part of performance reviews?
  • What if the wearable or wearable app is hijacked, and the worker’s data is accessed or altered?
  • Will the data from the wearables be a required disclosure as part of future project proposals to prove how the company monitors safety on the job?
  • Will the information be used to decide whether to retain workers?

“It’s hard to march forward on a single standard,” says Johnson. “We haven’t decided on parameters. Soup to nuts, a standards process could take three years. You’ll probably see a suite of actions. It’s unlikely there will be a single response.”