IoT Saves Lives in Hazardous Work Environments

As part of its mission, Westernacher Consulting, a German-based company with global presence providing in-depth expertise in the design and implementation of complex IT applications, has long kept a close eye on the circumstances contributing to workplace accidents and fatalities.

Many of the observations have been distressing. According to the United States’ Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), between 2013 and 2017, 489 oil and gas workers were killed on the job because of explosions and fires, improperly confined spaces, chemical exposure, and other causes.

In 2018, for example, a gas leak in Brooklyn, New York resulted in a blast that claimed the lives of three employees of the electricity and gas utility company National Grid.

When Westernacher examined these types of mishaps, there was a realization that, more often than not, the incidents were either identified too late or discovered by chance.

The Technology Exists

As IT specialists, the company understood what was lacking: real-time, detailed, and individual tracking for gas exposure, not to mention reliable motion detection for workers.

Certainly, the advanced technology and IT infrastructure were there to ensure employee safety and compliance while conforming with established business processes and procedures.

The challenge was creating a new platform that would protect workers in a way that hadn’t existed before.

And Westernacher was uniquely positioned to do so.

Removing Workers from Harm’s Way with IoT Technology

Since 1969, Westernacher has been at the forefront of driving digitalization and automation. Its more than 750 consultants have turned the company into one of the world’s leading brands for technology-driven innovation.

As part of the SAP PartnerEdge program – a program that allows close collaborators of the multinational software corporation to gain special access to resources, services, and benefits – Westernacher knew where to go for high-tech assistance to ensure the highest level of worker safety and compliance.

One particular asset was SAP Internet of Things (IoT), which embeds physical objects with sensors, processing ability, software, and other technologies to exchange data with devices and systems over the Internet and other communications networks.

For example, electronic textiles, or e-textiles, are fabrics containing digital components. These include smart shirts and body suits containing such biometric data as pulse rate, heart rhythm, muscle stretch, temperature, and physical movement.

Now, IoT technology, along with analytics of real-time data, would proactively protect workers by detecting the first signs of impending danger.

A Transformed Workplace

Westernacher’s Connected Worker platform was deployed in November 2020, using SAP IoT as the foundation for its real-time monitoring of worker safety and compliance.

Like something out of Star Trek, core information came from such smart devices as gas detectors and smart shirts and smart watches to determine the presence of toxins, along with worker heartbeat and respiration activity. These also relayed information on whether employees were wearing harnesses.

If a worker in a remote spot fell, a manual mobile app immediately reported the location. To the lay person, this may seem mundane. But to the worker, it’s the difference between life and death.

“Transparency has been taken to a whole new level, enabling continuous safety and health monitoring of employees,” noted Matthias Hollenders, Westernacher’s global lead for Industry 4.0 – or digital transformation for manufacturing and production – and IoT.

Companies utilizing the new platform noticed some startling changes, among them 65% fewer accidents. And with their concentration on their jobs rather than the fear of getting hurt, worker efficiency increased.

Current plans include expanding the cutting-edge IoT solution to cover areas like maintenance, manufacturing, and logistics.

Hollenders asserts that the successful project “proves that such innovative solutions can be implemented in a short time and generate tremendous value.”

For this groundbreaking contribution to worker safety, Westernacher Consulting was recognized as a 2021 SAP Innovation Awards finalist. You can read more about the company’s dramatic solution to workplace accidents in its SAP Innovation Awards pitch deck here.


Keith E. Greenberg is an SAP global marketing contributor.