Making the Workplace Safer with Wearable Technology

Technology has found its way in to every aspect of agriculture, extending its reach to farmers and farm workers. Wearable devices can enhance safety, but their benefits depend on users responding to the alerts and warnings they provide.

Dr. Aaron Yoder, an associate professor at the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s College of Public Health and a collaborator with AgrAbility, emphasises the importance of ergonomics and assistive technology in making farming safer. AgrAbility, affiliated with Purdue University, aids farmers in implementing these technologies.

Employer-led Initiatives

Dr. Yoder collaborates with feed yard workers across Nebraska, where large feed yards often have their own mills. These environments can experience extreme heat and noise levels. Some feedlots utilise wearable technology from MakuSafe. These employee-worn sensors transmit data on heat index, noise exposure, air quality, falls, and repetitive motions, enabling employers to intervene before conditions become hazardous.

“The company provides a base station and devices,” Yoder explains. “Workers check out these devices in the morning and return them at the end of the day, much like using personal protective equipment such as safety glasses and hearing protection.”

While some employees may resist monitoring of their heart rate and movements, Yoder notes, “If you’re the only one with the data and you have an emergency, no one else will know to help you.”

Protecting Privacy

Employers must discuss employee privacy when implementing these systems. Yoder highlights the need for clear communication about who needs the data and its purposes to ensure comfort with the technology.

Not all systems continuously stream and store data. “Some devices only send alerts when they detect a problem,” Yoder says, emphasising that they do not operate like “Big Brother.”

Employers must avoid collecting excessive data to prevent overwhelm and focus on making the technology beneficial. “Employers need to prioritise what data to monitor immediately and what can be stored for trend analysis,” Yoder advises.

Technology for Small Farms

Even smaller operations can leverage wearable technology for safety. Yoder suggests that family members might encourage the use of devices like smartwatches or location apps such as Life360 for peace of mind.

Personal devices, such as smartwatches and fitness trackers, can enhance safety. For instance, an elderly Nebraska farmer’s fall was detected by his Apple watch, which called emergency services and provided his location, likely saving his life.

These devices can also alert users to high heart rates or blood pressure, which is crucial since many physical jobs can lead to heart-related illnesses. “By alerting people, they can take necessary breaks,” Yoder says.

Smartphones, which Yoder considers wearable technology, can issue alerts for dangerous weather conditions and track health metrics. Devices like the DROP from Kestrel Instruments ( can measure temperature, humidity, and heat index, offering more precise readings than general forecasts.

Embracing Low-Tech Solutions

Despite the advancements in technology, Yoder acknowledges that sometimes low-tech solutions, like CB radios, are still effective, especially in areas with poor cell phone reception. “It’s important for younger workers to be aware of these options,” he adds.

Implementing Changes

While technology can provide data and recommendations, acting on this information is essential. “Behaviour change is challenging, but accountability can make a significant difference,” Yoder says, suggesting that discussions about data and subsequent actions can enhance safety.

Farmers, who already rely heavily on data for weather, crops, and seeds, are likely to accept using additional data for safety. “Farmers appreciate data,” Yoder concludes. “It’s a natural fit for them to use data to stay safe.