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April 18, 2013

Purdue student's invention could improve workplace safety

Eric J. Ward hygienist vest

Eric J. Ward, a master's degree candidate in Purdue's School of Health Sciences, wears a prototype of his industrial hygienist vest that holds equipment in a pocket on the back rather than clipped to the belt. Ward's vest, which will be tested in Indiana and Ohio, can be licensed through the Purdue Office of Technology Commercialization. (Purdue Research Foundation photo)
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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Industrial and government health and safety inspectors who regularly check work sites for levels of physical, chemical and biological agents could find their own work environments safer through an innovation developed by a Purdue University graduate student.

Health and safety inspectors are found in all industrial sectors including construction, manufacturing and mining, as well as the government and military. Inspectors check how levels of these physical, chemical and biological agents in the workplace compare to standards set by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists.

Eric J. Ward, a master's degree candidate in the Purdue School of Health Sciences from Plymouth, Ind., developed vest prototypes that could help health and safety inspectors carry their testing equipment more easily and improve ease of using it on the job.

To collect samples from the workplace, air sampling pumps and noise dosimeters are clipped or secured with duct tape onto a worker's belt during the entire workday. Ward said there are several drawbacks to this method of attaching the equipment.

"Inconsistent placement of equipment could lead to different results for different workers, and tubing or wires could be caught in machinery if the duct tape or clip that secures them comes loose," he said. "The weight of the equipment pulls on the belt, which can be physically uncomfortable."

Ward has self-funded the development of three vest prototypes he made after returning from a 2012 summer internship. Workers can put on the vests by themselves, Velcro straps hold the equipment's wires or tubing in place, and counterweights in front ensure the equipment located on the back doesn't pull the vest.

"People in industrial, government and military settings work as hard as they can, and I have been told that traditional industrial hygiene sampling is made even harder because the equipment is heavy and awkward to carry," he said. "Since the vest keeps equipment and its wires or tubing in a consistent place, hygienists can better measure the levels of physical, chemical and biological agents in the workplace, which means they can better detect possible problems and effectively control them."

Ward has created large and extra-large prototypes, one of which can hold up to six different sampling devices. They have been tested by industrial hygiene students at Purdue, and additional tests are being or will be conducted by companies and government agencies in Indiana and Ohio. Ward also will make a poster presentation about his vests in Montreal at the AIHce 2013 conference for occupational and environmental health and safety professionals.

Purdue Office of Technology Commercialization has filed two provisional patents for Ward's vest for industrial hygienists. For more information about developing and commercializing this invention, contact the Purdue Office of Technology Commercialization at 765-588-3470, otcpatent@prf.org.

About Purdue Office of Technology Commercialization

The Purdue Office of Technology Commercialization operates one of the most comprehensive technology-transfer programs among leading research universities in the United States. Services provided by this office support the economic development initiatives of Purdue University and benefit the university's academic activities.

Purdue Research Foundation contact:

Steve Martin, 765-588-3342, sgmartin@prf.org 

Source:

Eric J. Ward, ejward@purdue.edu