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The Fall: Safeware’s Impact on Workplace Safety and Future Applications

Safeware (official site) is a company that specializes in safety solutions which take the form of various airbag vests that can save lives in case of falls or collisions.

Fall accidents are relatively common and can occur in various settings, affecting people of all ages. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), falls are a significant global public health issue, particularly among older adults. Statistics indicate that around 37.3 million falls that are severe enough to require medical attention occur yearly.

Safeware tends to address construction sites or other work-related falls, a portion of that number above. Many dangerous falls in that environment happen below the 10-meter (30-foot) level. That’s because, above that, other measures, such as safety nets, can be taken.

However, working on a floor’s high ceiling can be incredibly dangerous in case of a fall, and it unfortunately happens a lot. While in Korea, I discussed the company’s latest safety vest called “C3,” the most compact and lightweight version to date. With this new model, Safeware has integrated modifications most requested by customers, such as being able to remove the shoulder pads and other ergonomic changes.

The vest has sensors that detect falls. If such an event happens, a huge airbag will deploy to protect the worker’s vital areas. The goal is to have zero fatalities from such incidents.

It is very difficult to build such protection devices because it’s very hard to avoid false positives regarding fall detections. For example, many fall-detection devices for the elderly routinely experience false positives. However, if the airbag was to be triggered when not needed, that could create an accident due to the worker’s reflex response. In that way, Safeware has no room for error, and so far, they seem to be performing well.

Beyond this accomplishment, there are future perspectives and options to make this type of safety evolve. For example, airbag integration could come directly into the work uniforms. It is also possible to imagine floatation devices for maritime environments so people don’t fall and drown.

There’s also a possible consumer perspective too. With the generalization of personal mobility devices (scooters), it’s easy to see how such devices could prevent injuries. Even bicyclists or roller-skaters could use some of this. But more importantly, a hip-fracture safety device for the elderly could be crucial some day. Studies suggest that within the first year after a hip fracture, the mortality rate can range from 12% to 30%, with higher rates observed in older age groups.

With 20,000 units installed and operating worldwide, the technology has proven effective in the real world. So far, at least five lives have been saved, according to Safeware.

There are more business opportunities as the relatively small $950 cost of a vest might bring down insurance costs in the future. Also, as regulators see the benefits of such protections, wearing them might become mandatory, putting this startup in a very advantageous position.

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