In the workplace, slips, trips, and falls (STFs) tend to be the chief causes of major injuries. As per the International Labor Organization, over a million workers throughout the world are injured at work every da.
Timely detection of STF risks is vital in helping to improve workplace safety. This is especially useful in industries like maritime, construction, manufacturing, transportation, and storage.
Using the power of research and technology to promote workplace safety, Professor Lim Chwee Teck from the National University of Singapore’s (NUS) Department of Biomedical Engineering, which is under the College of Design and Engineering, as well as the Institute for Health Innovation & Technology (iHealthtech), partnered with NUS start-up, FlexoSense, to come up with a smart insole which has the potential to track workplace STFs in real-time and is the first ever that could detect a person’s balance.
The insole will enable companies to determine the location of an incident and stress STF risk areas to implement ideal mitigation efforts.
Tracking And Reporting STFs Through Real-Time Detection of Changes in Pressure and Motion
The smart insole contains pressure sensors to trace foot pressure and an inertial measurement unit sensor to quantify changes in motion. When an STF takes place, the body will initially try to retain balance by exerting pressure on the feet.
The smart insole has the potential to pick up unique changes in pressure and orientation. This is to identify if an STF has occurred. These changes in motion and foot pressure as a result of an STF are further recorded and quantified in real-time to produce balance profiles of various users, which could help in evaluating the deployment of workers for numerous tasks.
Falls from height could be detected with the help of the smart insole as they have diverse velocity profiles.
Information collected from the smart insole could be accessed in a simple manner by workers via a mobile app and by company management through a dashboard. The digitalization of STF occurrences streamlines timely reporting and higher transparency on such incidents, rather than depending on workers or safety officers to file reports.
Also, the insole could be custom fitted with foot scanning and 3D printing production.
Usually, slips, trips, and falls are unreported. By deploying this smart insole solution in the workplace, companies can be proactive in mitigating these incidents. When a person encounters a slip, trip, or fall, there will be unique changes in motion as well as pressure distribution exerted by the feet.
Lim Chwee Teck, Professor, Department of Biomedical Engineering, National University of Singapore
Teck added, “Our smart insole captures the information automatically, and by tracking these changes, companies can identify high risk areas in the workplace and implement preventive measures in a timely manner.”
“STFs are significant cost drivers for most companies due to a loss of productivity, medical expenses, and administrative costs. We believe our smart insole can help to reduce the human and financial costs before serious accidents happen,” said Ms Chia Lye Peng, Chief Executive Officer of FlexoSense.
More than tracking and reporting STFs, the smart insole determines day-to-day activities such as standing, walking, and sitting. This enables managers to determine possible risky actions like when a worker must be walking rather than running and to quantify the center of pressure to evaluate the sense of balance of every worker.
The scientists were awarded the Maritime Innovation and Technology-STARTUP Grant by the Maritime Port Authority of Singapore in May 2022 for prototype development and testing of the smart insole.
The researchers are partnering with the Workplace Safety and Health Institute and the Association of Singapore Maritime Industries to improve and modify the smart insole for the maritime sector.
Future Plans and Industry Applications
Over the years, the data gathered from the smart insoles worn by workers, together with other worker-related metrics, could be utilized to implement best workplace practices on safety and health.
The research group is now looking into the commercialization of the smart insole.
Smart insole to identify and mitigate workplace slips, trips and falls
Video Credit: National University of Singapore.