We are currently seeing an increasing use of new technologies, especially data glasses (smart glasses), in the member companies of the German Social Accident Insurance Institutions for trade and industry. Data glasses can display information within a person’s field of vision while leaving their hands free to carry out whatever they need to do.
However, there has not yet been sufficient research into the possible risks and impact on the safety and health of employees using data glasses at workplaces in trade and industry.
The aim of the project Impact of Data Glasses on Occupational Safety and Health (ADAG) is to create a recommended course of action as a basis for risk assessment when using data glasses at workplaces in trade, logistics, service or assembly. The recommended course of action is to be based on findings from field and lab studies as well as on a review of the literature and the market.
The research project was funded by the German Social Accident Insurance Institution for the Trade and Logistics Industry (BGHW) and carried out by the Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (IFA) of the German Social Accident Insurance (DGUV) in cooperation with the RheinAhrCampus (RAC) of Koblenz University, the Central Institute for Occupational Medicine and Maritime Medicine in Hamburg-Eppendorf and the School of Applied Sciences at London South Bank University.
The project objective was pursued by the cooperating partners in three sub-projects:
The first sub-project involved a review of the literature and the market to identify the current state of science and technology concerning designs, applications and the potential impact on people’s health and occupational safety when using data glasses. At this stage, the IFA was involved in an advisory capacity in the planning.
The second sub-project consisted of field and lab studies where the research partners and the IFA investigated a range of stress parameters in the use of data glasses. Due to Covid, the original plan had to be given some adjustments in its procedure. The IFA was involved in the studies as follows:
Study #1 (field study): Posture and movement analysis with CUELA measurement system (the German acronym "CUELA" stands for computer-based measurement and long-term analysis of stresses upon the musculoskeletal system; carried out by the Unit for the Design of New Forms of Work). CUELA readings were taken in order picking and assembly (2 in warehouse logistics and 1 in aircraft assembly), monitoring 15 employees in all. The research focused on analysing characteristic postures and movements when using data glasses compared with the use of conventional equipment (hand-held scanners and tablets).
Study #2 (lab study): The warehouse logistics scenario was simulated in the RAC laboratory for further analysis. This involved comparing different pairs of data glasses with each other under identical laboratory conditions. The CUELA test setup from the field study was also used here and analysed in the same way.
Study #3 (lab study): Calculation of EMF exposure (EMF: electromagnetic fields; implementation: area 5.2 machine safety, industrial security and implants) Wireless communication with data glasses takes place via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. The required components, such as the antenna, are built into a temple of the spectacle frame and are therefore close to the person’s head.
The German Occupational Safety and Health Ordinance on Electromagnetic Fields (EMF Ordinance) sets exposure limits as specific absorption rates (SARs). SARs concern the absorption of electromagnetic energy in the tissue of the head and cannot be verified through measurement. However, they can be established via numerical calculations using digital anatomical body models on the SIM4LIFE simulation platform. As well as checking acceptable SARs in the head, the study investigated the way in which the type of antenna and its placement on the head influence the distribution of SARs in each type of tissue.
The third sub-project, based on the findings of sub-projects 1 and 2, focused on developing a recommended course of action and a checklist for occupational safety and health when using data glasses. At this stage, the IFA was involved in an advisory capacity in the planning as well as the actual content.
Findings arising from the field test (1) and the lab test (2):
The use of data glasses (possibly in combination with other equipment such as a ring scanner) can change the posture and movement of the body during an activity, which can lead to a different risk assessment regarding damage to the musculoskeletal system. Interaction with the data glasses was found to take a small proportion of the overall time (approx. 1%), but this proportion then clearly increased in the lab test (approx. 13%). When comparing the use of data glasses with conventional equipment at the various workplaces, the study found both positive and negative effects concerning musculoskeletal strain through the use of data glasses. As it is not possible to make a general assessment of the use of data glasses, a new risk assessment is required to check the ergonomic design of the workplace for the use of data glasses.
Findings arising from Study #2 (lab study):
The computer simulations required an abstract model of the complex structure of a pair of data glasses and were carried out with the legally permitted frequencies for Wi-Fi and Bluetooth applications (2.432 GHz, 5.24 GHz, 5.54 GHz and 5.785 GHz) and the maximum output permitted for each. The findings obtained under these conditions allowed a good qualitative assessment of EMF exposure and the distribution of SARs in human head tissue.
The following conclusions could be drawn:
The findings from the studies of all research partners have been compiled in a recommendation for action and a checklist. Based on these documents and on the relevant existing Fachbereich Aktuell (Latest Expert Committee News), a DGUV informative publication is now being written on the safe use of data glasses in terms of occupational safety and health. This is being undertaken together with the German Social Accident Insurance Institution for the Trade and Logistics Industry (BGHW) and the German Social Accident Insurance Institution for the Woodworking and Metal Industries (BGHM).
-cross sectoral-Type of hazard:
work-related health hazardsCatchwords:
new technologies, ergonomics, electromagnetic fieldsDescription, key words:
data glasses, smart glasses, assisted reality, mixed reality, risk assessment, order picking, assembly