NSF grant focuses on wearable sensors to improve construction workers’ safety

Posted: October 19, 2022

Hardhats and neon vests may be obvious protective gear for construction workers but a research project underway at Ohio State expects the use of wearable sensors will provide more advanced on-the-job safety measures. 

Parinaz Naghizadeh

ISE Assistant Professor Parinaz Naghizadeh is collaborating with researchers from Penn State University and the University of Delaware on “Future of Construction Workplace Health Monitoring,” which received a four-year $1.8 million grant from the National Science Foundation to “integrate flexible, wearable sensor fabrication, artificial intelligence and privacy-aware information visualization to improve construction workforce health and safety.” 

Naghizadeh says the goal is to develop sensors that can be monitored to provide real-time data, which can then be used to build tools enabling workers to make better decisions on the job site. One challenge, she acknowledges, will be reassuring workers that their privacy will be maintained “so that they don’t feel they are being monitored about their performance the whole time.” 

The data will help researchers determine patterns, including early detection of physical fatigue, mental stress and exposure to heat stress. “Our initial thoughts are to make sure the workers are hydrated and to determine any stress factors,” Naghizadeh says. “Existing data shows that the construction workplace has one of the highest rates of work-related mental health and stress.” 

Although the construction industry, which employs close to 7 million workers in the U.S., has one of the highest rates of suicide, Naghizadeh says, “Much of our project is monitoring physical health. We want to make this as a tool to support stresses of the job.” 

While the NSF grant is more about collaborative research than commercialization, Naghizadeh notes that the researchers hope to provide a proof of concept with tools that are reusable as well as scalable. 

She says that while wearable sensors exist that illustrate some of the on-the-job stressors construction workers face, there is not one “geared for all the health indicators we are after. It has to be compact enough and lightweight with a sufficiently long battery life.” 

According to Naghizadeh, the end product may be transferable to other industries, such as manufacturing, firefighting and agriculture, while providing a more modern approach. “A lot of our workplaces are very traditional, whereas a lot of technology has moved forward,” Naghizadeh says, adding that the end goal is to bring together advanced hardware and software in a wholistic way to ensure safety on the job. 


Story by Nancy Richison

Category: Faculty