While there are more glamorous subjects than safety, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”. The goal of this IoT Lab subseries on Safety is to provide tips that lead to a few ounces of prevention, keeping us safe while we innovate. Please keep in mind that no treatment of IoT prototype (or Maker) safety could be comprehensive, and this blog series makes no such attempt. Also, as with all Gartner blogs these are my personal opinions and not a substitute for professional advice.
Thinking about the other segments, and hopefully projects, I want to highlight in this IoT Lab series, I feel compelled to address some basic safety issues. While developing this posting it naturally split into two parts:
Part 1: Here I am going to discuss some issues related to bringing a Maker or DIY approach into the workplace (this post should also be valuable for small groups, clubs, etc.).
Part 2: I will share a few pieces of safety equipment that I use – and all three I think pass the “Google test” (meaning they aren’t instantly obvious when searching “Electronics Safety”).
Maker in the Workplace
The Maker movement rocks! While great arguments can be had about what triggered this and the foundations of Making, the reality is that this has been a huge boost to STEM education, citizen engineering and yes – IoT. I would go so far as to argue that IoT’s parents are the Maker movement and Cloud – both of which have resulted in massive democratization of technology.
The challenge is that the safety rules and expectations are different between DIY at home and workplace innovation. There are practices and materials that are acceptable at home but that may require qualification of some kind at work. At home no one needs to have a material safety data sheet (MSDS) for that solder flux they just purchased!
If you are setting up an IoT Lab in a workplace there are a few things to keep in mind:
- There may be specific regulations, such as OSHA in the US, that impose safety training, equipment or protection requirements.
- Workers compensation or commercial insurance may impose requirements and limits.
There are inherent risks when working with electrical or mechanical systems that are project specific, and as a result safety requirements will vary from project to project.
In 2016 Garter held an IoT Hackathon at our San Diego Catalyst event. The project that day was to modify a remote control truck to add IoT sensors, a kill switch, and other functions. Everyone had a great time and there were no problems. All of the Gartner analysts were coached to keep an eye out for having the trucks sitting on-wheels while people were working on them (vs. flipped upside down), as a light touch on the remote control could cause these toys – approved for pre-teens – to leap off the table. We managed this with “training”, emphasizing the risk of having the truck suddenly burst into motion when activated in our introduction and reinforced it in the written instructions. The key was identifying the problem, and then coming up with the most direct, least invasive solution. The solution to addressing the risk was low-cost and easy – making people aware of it.
You can’t managed unidentified risks. Take the time to identify the risks present and contain them.
Bottom Line: Safety issues often have simple solutions. Take a proactive approach.
There is more help available that you think!
Many organizations have safety resources they are willing to share or periodic training in which you can participate:
- Your operational engineering or facilities departments: OSHA and other regulators require regular safety training. As a result, there may be pre-paid, ready-to-deliver training for a wide range of concerns available to your organization. Not sure where to start? Reach out to the folks that run your employee on-boarding program. They will be aware of safety training that is required before various roles can start at the organization.
- Local universities, trade schools and STEM programs: Safety is a key issue in schools of all types. Universities and trade schools will often have designated safety officers who maintain policies, provide training, inspect labs and respond to incidents. The best way to locate these individuals is to contact a relevant department head or public relations. Often these organizations are also seeking co-op placements or projects for students, and as a result can be wonderful long term partners for your IoT innovation efforts.
- Makers, Maker Spaces, and Hackerspaces: STEM education oriented facilitates are springing up in a range of formats from local libraries to private clubs. They all have safety programs (or should).
- Supplier IoT Labs: Many of the suppliers of IoT platforms or edge equipment have labs that are available for clients use. While the lab itself may be located 1000s of miles away or booked solid, use your relationships with these suppliers to get a quick conversation with the lab director or safety officer.
- Utilities and equipment suppliers: Electrical (or other) safety programs are likely available through the public relations departments for your fire department, utilities and equipment providers.
Bottom Line: Investigate the low-cost or no-cost experts and resources that you may be able to leverage.
Resources to get you started:
- UBC Electrical and Computer Engineering Lab Safety Video
- Electronics Safety Rules (dummies.com)
- MIT Department of Electrical Engineering & Computer Science safety handout
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