It is noon and the temperatures exceed 50 degrees Celsius. In many countries that would trigger a heat warning, but in the sweltering summer in Dubai, it’s just another day. And for workers in an aluminum foundry, it can get even hotter.
At Emirates Global Aluminum (EGA), the metal is produced through a process where temperatures can reach 950 degrees Celsius. Employees at its Dubai foundry are accustomed to intense heat, working in open warehouses that can reach 58 degrees Celsius during the summer months.
Every day at EGA begins with staff donning temperature-resistant safety suits, helmets, goggles and boots. But since June, 50 workers have also donned a wearable technology device, as part of a trial due to end this month.
Composed of a thin rectangular panel and a band, the device is wrapped around the worker’s arm. Sensors on the panel measure heart rate, skin temperature, activity level and sweat production. Combined, this data is used to predict the wearer’s core body temperature – the amount of heat in a person’s blood and internal organs.
Created by the American company Kenzen, this device could help prevent workers from overheating. Once the core body temperature is above 38 degrees Celsius, when heat exhaustion symptoms are likely to begin, the device vibrates and the user receives a notification on their phone, telling them it is time to take a break.
Although there are other personal heat sensors on the market, they mainly focus on body temperature monitoring for performance and sports. Kenzen says he adapted his device with industrial activities in mind.
Through a dashboard displayed on a computer, EGA factory managers can also gain insight into the health of their team, but to maintain worker privacy, the amount of information they have about their staff is limited.
“If there is a potential security incident or a person who needs an intervention, they (the supervisors) only receive the data to be able to intervene, nothing more”, explains Kyle Hubregtse, vice president of operations commercial Kenzen.
The device launched in May 2020, and Kenzen has partnered with companies across different industries to bring the technology to the workplace – from firefighters to people working in construction, mining and manufacturing.
According to the International Labor Organization, heat stress is a serious problem for many of the world’s 1 billion agricultural workers and 66 million textile workers, among others. He estimates that the UAE will lose more than 2% of its GDP by 2030. The effects of climate change mean that globally in that year the impact of heat stress on productivity will amount to a loss equivalent to at least 80 million full-time jobs.
EGA’s executive vice president of health, safety and environment, Salman Abdulla, said the device served as an “extra layer of protection” against heat stress that should be used in addition to other measures already in place.
“Even without the device, if you see the first telltale signs (of heat stress) yourself, there are a set of procedures that employees must follow, such as going to a hydration station or to a cooling,” says Abdulla.
The main advantage of the device, according to Abdulla, is that its real-time data can be preventative, alerting workers that they are overheating, even if they do not realize it themselves.
“It objectively measures their state of health (…) and if each time a person is distracted, does not think, it provides an early sign that a person may be entering a state of heat stress” , he adds.
Abdulla thinks it’s important to draw attention to the issue and encourage other companies to take similar security precautions. “The idea is not just to test the device for ourselves, but for others to learn from us,” he notes.
“[Thermal stress] is a condition that is 100% preventable, as long as you have the tools to do so – and it is the hope, and dream, that everyone has access to technology that can prevent it.