Cost, convenience, and care:
The case for AI in PPE
When personal safety is at stake, how much should we rely on technology and AI?
AI is innovating its way into surprising places.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) has already changed the way we do business forever. In many cases, it’s been straightforward to accept and apply. But now we’re seeing AI innovate its way into surprising places, where technological adoption has created competitive advantages for companies quick and forward-thinking enough to respond. One of these, borrowed from the fitting rooms of fashion retailers, is making its way into the construction sector – improving processes, cutting costs, and even saving lives.
Primary PPE had been an essential component in hazardous workplaces long before it became a hot topic during the pandemic – with protective clothing and high visibility garments playing a crucial role in keeping staff safe at work. But for larger businesses with complex needs – getting PPE right en masse can be an expensive, time-consuming, and admin-heavy burden. And with safety at stake, incorporating elements of automation into the design and selection process wasn’t something that was considered. Until now.
The tech, or something like it, has been around for a while. During the pandemic, virtual try-ons became a popular retail and fashion feature for online shopping, with augmented reality (AR) helping users to see potential outfits on their own bodies. Snapchat launched this in 2021, and Google Shopping rolled it out globally earlier this year, too.
At Commercial, we use data collection to enhance this process for fitting. For example, if I’m a 32 in Levi’s, my recommended size for hi-vis trousers is a 30. We can even use body scanning, and virtual fitting rooms, for a more inclusive and personalised experience. For sectors like construction, which is empowering people from all backgrounds to join the industry, this innovation is priceless and comes with a raft of end user benefits, which we’ll get onto.
But, however much you see it on a screen, there’s nothing like the real thing – especially when you’re going to be wearing something all day, every day. The technology can only go so far, which is why we advocate for a balanced approach that goes beyond algorithmic predictions. We use AR and VR as a supplementary aid, rather than sole determinant, to help our clients meet safety and regulatory standards – as well as everyday comfort for their workers.
The risks versus the rewards
It’s human nature to say “that’ll do” when something fits well enough, but perfection shouldn’t be compromised when it comes to personal safety. We might take a pair of jeans that are slightly too long, because we can roll them up, but this isn’t acceptable when it comes to PPE. If we supply a garment that’s too long or too baggy, which leads to it being caught in machinery, causing injury to the wearer – the consequences could be unthinkable. This is why it’s still so important that for every PPE and workwear contract we have at Commercial, there is a human element involved, alongside the use of AI. This helps to ensure compliance, comfort and safety at all times, something that’s paramount for us when working with all our clients.
Minimise Errors with Size Mapping
Utilising AI for size recommendations can minimise the risk of ill-fitting PPE, which is crucial in preventing workplace accidents and ensuring that protective equipment performs effectively. Virtual try-ons or data-based recommendations are the first step in the process, followed by a real try-on. By doing it virtually first, there’s a higher chance that the real try-on will be right the first time.
Minimised Return & Exchange
If workwear fits perfectly the first time, this also reduces the number of returns and exchanges. Not only does this mean productivity is enhanced by safety being established on the day of delivery, it also provides a cost saving in both time spent waiting for replacements and any shipping costs in the return process.
Enhanced User Satisfaction
Employees can verify the comfort and fit of workwear virtually, ensuring they’re satisfied with their equipment and are more likely to use it permanently and properly. This can enhance morale and productivity on worksites.
The data gathered from virtual fittings can also assist procurement teams in making informed decisions regarding inventory, identifying popular sizes, and understanding employee preferences. This streamlines the purchasing process and can lead to faster and more cost-effective buying.
The real world application
In 2022, a client we were working with required support selecting the correct product range with the right sizes.
In our client’s hazardous workplace, choosing suitable PPE has always been a priority. But after an incident on-site which was attributed to poor visibility of employees, the company needed to implement more stringent procedures for PPE.
The new helmet system we suggested involves the fitting of CR2 reflective kits, which provide 60% more reflectivity for the wearer. It also includes VisiLite, providing further illumination without dazzling those nearby, who can then tell if the wearer is looking directly at them or in a different direction. In this case, we deemed that technology needed to be supplemented with human intervention.
By combining online ordering, virtual inspection of equipment, and expert in-person advice – which takes into account the full context of a workplace – health and safety ratings were improved and the incident has not occurred again.
The bottom line
At Commercial, we will never solely rely on technology, especially when it comes down to final sign-off and suitability of your organisation’s PPE; AI is no substitute for years of knowledge and experience.
AI sizing will also never be a complete replacement for human nuance – whether from a specialist provider who knows the products, or an in-house manager who knows the workplace.
The inclusion of a human element ensures that we recommend the very best products for our clients – whether suggesting a particular product range or garments in the right size.
But every step that comes before that can be vastly improved by the inclusion and adoption of tech. The probability of unsuitability is reduced, which means fewer exchanges or replacements, enabling greater productivity, and more satisfied end users. With more data and technology, we can make smarter decisions to improve our businesses, without taking the human element out of this equation.
When it comes to AI and PPE, if supported and overseen by specialists, it’s a perfect match.
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PPE & Workwear
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