Helmet sensor alerts workers to carbon monoxide

1 min read

Students at Virginia Tech have developed a hard hat that protects construction workers from carbon monoxide poisoning.

Carbon monoxide poisoning is a significant problem for construction workers in residential and industrial settings because the exhaust from gasoline-powered hand tools can quickly build up in enclosed spaces and easily overcome the tool’s users and nearby workers.

In a paper, the researchers explained how they integrated a pulse oximetry sensor into a typical construction helmet to allow continuous and non-invasive monitoring of workers’ blood gas saturation levels.

The results of their study showed that a user of this helmet would be warned of impending carbon monoxide poisoning with a probability of greater than 99 per cent.

Ten Virginia Tech students participated in the study conducted on the university campus by mimicking simple tasks of construction workers.

To show the feasibility of monitoring for carbon monoxide poisoning without subjecting the users to dangerous conditions, the researchers used a prototype for monitoring the blood oxygen saturation.

According to Virginia Tech, the difference for monitoring for oxygen and for carbon monoxide differs only in the number of wavelengths of light employed, so if this monitoring proved feasible, then the monitoring for carbon monoxide would be feasible too.

They selected a helmet for the installation of a wearable computer because they needed a design that could be worn year round, which ruled out seasonal clothing such as overalls or coats. They also wanted a design that struck a balance between comfort, usability, and feasibility.

The team said the helmet is the first step toward a long-term vision of having a network of wearable and environmental sensors and intelligent personal protective gear on construction sites that will improve safety for workers.

They added that opportunities exist for wearable computing in reducing injuries due to falls, electrocution, and particulate inhalation.

The research and resulting paper was written by Jason B. Forsyth a Ph.D. candidate in computer engineering, his adviser Thomas L. Martin, professor of electrical and computer engineering, Deborah Young-Corbett, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering and a member of the Myers-Lawson School of Construction, and Ed Dorsa, associate professor of industrial design.

The paper, Feasibility of Intelligent Monitoring of Construction Workers for Carbon Monoxide Poisoning can be found here.