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Singapore Researchers Develop Smart Insole to Mitigate Slips, Trips and Falls

Image credit: NUS

Slips, trips, and falls (STF) are the leading source of severe injuries in the workplace. Daily, over a million workers across the world suffer injuries from slips and trips, which are the most frequent causes. Early identification of STF risks is essential for improving workplace safety and health, especially in industries such as construction, maritime, manufacturing, transportation, and storage.

Researchers from the National University of Singapore’s (NUS) Department of Biomedical Engineering have collaborated with an NUS start-up to develop a smart insole that can track workplace STFs in real time. It is the first of its kind that can detect a person’s balance. The insole enables companies to identify the location of an incident and highlight STF risk areas so that appropriate measures can be taken to minimise these hazards. The insole can also be custom fitted where necessary through foot scanning and 3D printing production.

According to a statement by NUS, the smart insole uses sensors to monitor foot pressure and an inertial measurement unit sensor to measure changes in motion. When an STF occurs, the body will initially try to maintain balance by exerting pressure on the feet to break the STF. The smart insole identifies these changes in pressure exerted by the feet, and a person’s orientation, to determine if an STF has occurred.

These pressure and motion changes due to an STF are then recorded and measured in real-time to generate balance profiles of different users. This will help employers assess which workers are more suitable for various tasks. Additionally, falls from height can be detected by the smart insole as they have distinct velocity profiles compared to falls on level ground.

Data collected by the smart insole can be easily accessed by employees through a mobile application and by company management through a dashboard. The digitisation of slips, trips, and falls incidents leads to more prompt reporting and increased transparency, eliminating the need for workers or safety officers to submit manual reports.

An official from the NUS start-up explained that STFs are significant cost drivers for most companies due to a loss of productivity, medical expenses, and administrative costs. The smart insole will reduce human and financial costs before serious accidents happen.

Apart from monitoring and reporting STFs, the smart insole recognises everyday activities like walking, standing, and sitting. This enables employers to detect potentially hazardous actions like when a worker should be walking instead of running, and evaluate a worker’s sense of balance by measuring the centre of pressure.

The researchers were awarded the Maritime Innovation and Technology-STARTUP Grant by the Maritime Port Authority of Singapore in May 2022 for prototype development and test-bedding of the smart insole for worker safety. They are collaborating with the Workplace Safety and Health Institute and Association of Singapore Maritime Industries to upgrade the smart insole for the maritime sector.

The statement noted that over time, the data collected from the smart insoles worn by workers, along with other worker-related metrics, can be used to implement best workplace practices on safety and health. The team is also looking into future applications and commercialisation of the smart insole to reduce STFs in construction, aviation, and manufacturing.


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