February 18, 2020 / Brigette Polmar

NIOSH Addresses Use (and Misuse) of Sensors

This post is part of a series on presentations delivered at AIHce EXP 2019.

“With great power comes great responsibility. We know that from Spider-Man, right?” asked NIOSH researcher Emanuele Cauda, PhD, at AIHce EXP 2019 in Minneapolis, Minn. Far from the topic of superheroes, Cauda instead referred to the direct-reading methodologies and real-time respirable dust monitors popularly used by industrial hygienists in both occupational environments and the health and safety profession. IHs and regulators are increasingly concerned about the use, misuse, and reliability of sensors, and Cauda questioned whether industry professionals are placing too much trust in these devices: “At which point do we say, ‘From this point on, there’s uncertainty’?”

NIOSH is working to ensure the proper use of sensors through an initiative called “Right Sensors Used Right,” which is intended to promote the competent development, adoption, and interpretation of real-time monitors and direct-reading methodologies, and to improve the interpretation of data when taking action in work environments. The agency hopes that by encouraging individuals to consider the capabilities and limitations of the technology, the initiative will improve the ability to address modern measurement challenges.

“We are really excited about these monitors,” added Cauda, “but at the same time, we want to quantify, address, and train on the limitations and the responsibilities that we need to have when we're using these technologies in the field.”

NIOSH research toxicologist John Snawder, PhD, who also presented in Minneapolis last May, noted that as the popularity of real-time dust monitors increases, so does the importance of understanding how the monitors are used and how well they perform. He discussed a joint project between The Netherlands Organization for Applied Scientific Research (TNO), the U.K.’s Health and Safety Executive, and NIOSH, which aims to develop a unified protocol to test the monitors.

“What we want to do is develop a generic, user-friendly protocol for appropriate calibration and validation of gas and particulate matter sensors,” Snawder continued. The protocol would only calibrate and validate within the parameters of intended use.

Snawder also talked about the importance of testing how use of the instruments will change worker behavior, stressing that the goal is to “change worker behavior for the better, not for the worse.” He went on to highlight workers’ good sense and awareness regarding safety.

“Workers actually understand the need for controls, and they notice when they’re not working,” he said. “Sometimes workers will act to improve their own safety; they mask up sooner.”

As technology advances, sensors will become even more useful and relevant to the IH profession. Read more about sensor development and use in The Synergist.

Brigette Polmar

Brigette Polmar is a professional brand journalist who covers the industrial hygiene profession, AIHA member news, AIHce EXP, and more. A former Washington correspondent and broadcast journalist, Polmar is the founder of Brand Spoken, which specializes in industry-specific coverage on paper, online, and on the air.


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