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Laing O'Rourke develops smart hat for hot climates

The hat's battery-powered system contains built-in sensors to monitor the wearers' heart rate, body temperature, their location and also the ambient air temperature and relative humidity

Laing O'Rourke will complete the hat's site testing by the end of this year.
Laing O'Rourke will complete the hat's site testing by the end of this year.

A new ‘smart’ safety hat that monitors the health of construction workers operating in extremely hot environments is being trialled in Australia by contracting firm Laing O'Rourke.

Laing O’Rourke’s Engineering Excellence Group has developed the hat, which uses built-in technology to raise the alarm when a worker is in danger of becoming dehydrated, overheated, or – in a worst-case scenario – collapsing.

The battery-powered system contains built-in headband sensors and other electronics to monitor the wearers' heart rate, body temperature, position of their hat and their location and also the ambient air temperature and relative humidity.

The hat regularly transmits status updates to monitoring systems via a local low-power radio network and 3G communications systems, and this data is also stored in the hat itself.

When predetermined safety levels are exceeded, the hat vibrates and generates a series of beeps, warning the wearer that they’re in a potentially unsafe condition.

It also alerts relevant colleagues over the local radio network and sends a text or email requesting immediate assistance, while an in-built GPS system identifies where the ailing worker is located.

The comfort and practicality of the battery powered, rechargeable hats has been tested out in the field by 10 people on both the Moorebank Units Relocation (Defence) project in southwestern Sydney, and the Ichthys LNG cryogenic tanks project in the heat and humidity of Australia’s ‘Top End’.

Device engineering Leader Rod Shepherd has led development and testing of the smart hats since the project began around 16 months ago.

“The Ichthys project near Darwin is an ideal environment to test out these smart hats, as temperatures for those working on suspended decks inside the tanks can often reach 45°C," he said.

“Laing O’Rourke already has a strong safety regime in place to manage heat-based risks, but we are always striving to improve our safety performance, and the hats are an additional layer of protection to ensure the wellbeing of our workforce.”

Site testing is due to be completed by the end of this year; initial feedback shows that people don’t notice the extra weight of the prototypes.

“So far we’ve only tested them for up to four hours. We need to see how people feel about wearing them after a whole working day, to test them in larger numbers and consider other logistical aspects of scaling for a wider rollout,” added Rod. 

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