The Leicestershire-based company makes sensors that can be woven into jackets to alert the wearer of dangers such as noise or vibration.
A British start-up is taking on Honeywell and 3M, the American technology giants, in a race to get wearable technologies into the industrial workplace to protect at-risk workers.
Wearable Technologies, a company based in Leicestershire and set up in 2014, has signed an agreement to get its kit used by Bouygues, the French multinational industrial conglomerate.
Wearable Technologies produces high-tech-connected washable and detachable “looms” of electronics which can be woven into high-visibility workplace jackets fitted with sensors. They are aimed at alerting workers to dangers in order to protect them from occupational health issues such as noise or vibration damage.
The high-tech jackets also connect the wearers via a mobile network to a company’s nerve centre to tell managers of the worker’s location and to report issues to other similarly connected colleagues and can be used to monitor environmental issues in the workplace.
Mark Bernstein, chief executive and a veteran of other UK tech start-ups said that it was the natural workplace progression of using the “internet of things” connecting people and devices in the so-called industry 4.0 highly digitised workplace of the future, or the fourth industrial revolution.
“We have the ‘connected home’ and the ‘connected car’. It’s about time we start looking at how we can use these advances to make our industrial working environments safer,” he said. “We should worry about worker safety before tracking what is in our fridges. The development of this technology can lead to predictive analytics to enable companies to identify high-risk situations before they cause incidents or accidents.”
Mr Bernstein cited figures showing 3,800 fatal industrial accidents across Europe per year. The latest figures in the UK report that 137 workers killed at work in 2016-17. Employer fines over workplace incidents from the Health & Safety Executive more than doubled last year to almost £77 million.
Wearable Technologies developed out of plans to produce wearable technology for cyclists. Retailer demand to keep prices low meant that the company was not able to make sufficient margin from the consumer market.
The kit developed for industrial companies costs between £50 and £1,000 per unit depending on the amount of technology in the jacket. It sources sensors from manufacturers such as Casella and Dräger and embeds them into its connected technology and then into garments produced by workwear manufacturers such as Pulsar and T2S. Industrial companies that have trialled Workable Technologies’ products include BP, ArcelorMittal and Severn Trent.
The company designs the kit in the UK and makes it in China. Mr Bernstein said that competitors in the race to what could become a multibillion-pound market include Honeywell and 3M. After a second round of private funding including investors looking at military applications, Mr Bernstein said that Wearable Technologies had a market value of £20 million of which he has retained 40 per cent.