Office of Environmental Management

High-Tech Heart Rate Monitoring Arrives for WIPP Workers

June 11, 2019

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The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant’s new heart rate monitoring system provides heart rate information for up to 40 employees, displayed simultaneously on tablet computers.
The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant’s new heart rate monitoring system provides heart rate information for up to 40 employees, displayed simultaneously on tablet computers.

CARLSBAD, N.M.EM's Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) is going high-tech in its battle against heat stress.

Technology being used by teams in the National Football League, National Hockey League, 250 professional soccer teams, and more than 100 National Collegiate Athletic Association universities will now track employees both on the surface and in the WIPP underground.

The heart rate monitoring system will be used to conduct physiological heat strain evaluations, measuring the effect of heat stress on workers.

It’s not your average heart monitor. This device takes it several steps further.

The Polar H-10 heart rate monitor strap is worn by an employee under the ribcage, and the information is relayed in real time to a tablet computer through wireless technology.

Heart rate information for up to 40 employees can be displayed simultaneously on the tablet computer. The system’s software is set up to report data from each worker, by name, and it monitors preset limits on each employee’s heart rate. A color-coded display provides early warning to ensure workers are removed from heat exposure before they develop unacceptable heat strain.

A formula of 180 minus the worker’s age gives a conservative target heart rate that is plugged into the system. A readout gives the heart rate and the percentage of the target rate.

“This equipment is state of the art and provides a unique perspective into how each worker is personally responding to the heat,” said Walt Czejak, WIPP deputy manager for safety, industrial health, and site environment. “This tailors our ability to keep each worker safe and takes into account individual susceptibility to heat, hydration levels, and activity levels.”

WIPP isn’t the first industrial user of the system, but it will be the first time it is used in a mine, according to Polar.

Nuclear Waste Partnership, EM’s WIPP prime contractor, purchased 100 heart rate monitors and 10 tablet computers in advance of the 2019 heat season.

Southern New Mexico temperatures can soar to over 100 degrees on the surface at the site, and that surface air is pulled underground for ventilation. Workers have to don protective clothing in waste disposal Panel 7, which is radiologically contaminated, creating even more opportunities for heat stress.

Deployment of the devices will begin for workers with impermeable or semipermeable chemical protective clothing in Panel 7 and will be expanded to other groups based on risk level and benefit.

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