Creators of Hard Hat-Mounted CO Monitor Win Award

Virginia Tech researchers received the IEEETransactions in Automation Science and Engineering's Best Paper Award for their development of a sensor and alarm system to detect when a worker's blood oxygen level shows carbon monoxide poisoning is imminent.

By combining wearable computing with a non-invasive blood monitor, researchers at Virginia Tech have come up with a hard hat-mounted system for preventing carbon monoxide poisoning, Douglas McCormick reported Aug. 21 in IEEE Spectrum. His report said the researchers won the IEEETransactions in Automation Science and Engineering's Best Paper Award for their achievement.

"During the 1990s, nearly 100 American workers died from suffocation injuries; twenty percent of these succumbed to carbon monoxide poisoning, usually from operating gasoline-powered tools in confined spaces. CO suffocates its victims by tying up oxygen-transporting sites in hemoglobin, preventing oxygen from reaching the body. CO poisoning is insidious, quickly producing nausea, fatigue, headache, and disorientation, followed by unconsciousness and, too often, death," he wrote. "Extending the electronic measurement of our lives into the workplace, researchers at Virginia Tech combined wearable computing and prevention-through-design to develop a practical sensing and alarm system that can tell when a worker's blood oxygen level is cratering and prevent carbon monoxide poisoning."

The authors of the paper are Jason Forsyth, Thomas L. Martin, Deborah Young-Corbett, and Ed Dorsa, McCormick reported. He said they combined a pulse oximeter, a radio transmitter, a nine-volt battery, and a 3.3-volt regulator into a system that adds little weight to the hard hat.

"This is an opening sally in a program to develop 'wearable and ubiquitous' work-safety sensors that will help prevent not only asphyxiation deaths, but also injuries due to falls, electrocution, particulate inhalation, and pedestrian/heavy equipment accidents," he reported.

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