KANBrief 3/11

The use of auto ID systems for data acquisition: intelligent PPE

It's an appealing concept: any worker wearing personal protective equipment is automatically scanned in a non-contact manner at the point at which they access a workplace. The personal protective equipment is checked for its suitability, serviceable condition, and the mutual compatibility of the individual items of PPE. This should enable the accident rates, days of sick leave and cases of occupational disease to be reduced to their lowest ever levels.

”Auto ID“ is the generic term for technology for automatic identification and the acquisition and transmission of data. Data are recorded and transmitted by wireless technology, for example optically by means of barcodes, magnetically by magnetic stripes, or inductively by means of RFID (radio-frequency technology for identification purposes). In RFID technology, an antenna and a static or writable chip (transponder) on the item to be identified can be used to record data by means of a reader, and to exchange them.

Research projects

In a research project, sponsored by the German Social Accident Insurance (DGUV), into safety technology employing RFID (2007-2008), the University of Wuppertal demonstrated the suitability of RFID gates for the identification of PPE on construction sites (See KANBrief 3/07). In a second research project, currently in progress (2010-2011), the PPE is equipped in addition with sensor technology in order for data on the time-related performance characteristics of PPE (such as dampness, temperature or shock) to be acquired and evaluated.

Founding of an RFID/PPE standards committee

The use of RFID technology for PPE is dependent upon a generic digital classification system for all types of this equipment. In this system, each PPE product is assigned its own code from which the type of PPE and its particular properties can be identified directly. This enables the performance characteristics to be identified and documented unambiguously and automatically. A PPE product's entire life cycle can be monitored in this way from manufacture, through storage conditions, preventive and corrective maintenance, test intervals and duration in use, up to disposal.

A dedicated committee for RFID for PPE was formed at the end of 2008 within DIN's PPE standards committee. Its aim is to create a classification system, to digitize the properties of PPE, and to define the technical requirements for recording by means of RFID technology.

Data structures and body responsible for assignment

At the heart of the standard is the use of product characteristics to create a data structure which enables the PPE product to be classified unambiguously and the associated data to be retrieved correctly. At the same time, the memory overhead is to be kept to a minimum, in order to permit short data retrieval times and therefore rapid scanning. Sufficient memory should however be reserved for future applications. As soon as a data structure for PPE has been defined, groups of numbers will be assigned to the manufacturers. A body responsible for assigning numbers for PPE does not yet exist, but will be founded within the standards project, or an existing assignment body will be charged with the function.

Benefits and constraints for users

  • The wearer of the PPE passes through the gate, and his or her items of PPE are automatically detected and assessed very quickly. The user may enter the area only if all the data comply with the requirements from the risk analysis for the workplace concerned.
  • PPE data are recorded independently of brand and checked for their suitability, completeness and mutual compatibility.
  • Up-to-date product-specific properties can be detected swiftly and without contact. Examples are the date of manufacture, serviceability, duration of use, maintenance status, and scheduled test dates.
  • The PPE is detected with reference to the wearer; data privacy legislation prevents the creation of movement profiles for workers, however.

A series of standards at European or international level is the desired solution, and will enable the benefits for manufacturers and users to be exploited to the full. The special committee for RFID for PPE is currently developing the part of the standard governing the data structure. A public draft is anticipated in 2012. A second part of the standard will describe the technical requirements.

Dr. Robert Plum Member of the special committee "RFID for PPE"