Safety in the workplace is picking up pace – fast. The safety jacket, co-created in 2017 by Enel and D-Air Lab, which is connected with Dainese Group, a long-established personal sports protective equipment company, is already being made available to some of the Group’s employees for its first stage of testing.
The jacket protects the wearer by inflating special airbags around the body within milliseconds of recognising impact or fall conditions. It does so thanks to a mix of electronic and hydraulic components created using D-Air technology, a highly successful example of the Made in Italy ethic that draws on years of experience in working with great motorcycling and skiing champions of the likes of Valentino Rossi and Matthias Mayer.
Subsequent to initial testing in October of last year, the first 20 jackets were delivered in March to Italian employees in Enel’s Renewables, Distribution and Generation business line. However, numbers will gradually be increased and distribution extended to all the countries covered by our Group, culminating in the conclusion of the three-stage testing process.
Enel’s Head of Health, Safety, Environment and Quality Attilio Cherubini feels that even though the jacket was initially developed in the Global Thermal context, this is a cross-sector initiative that will hail a leap forward in safety not only for utilities but also for many other industrial sectors.
“We have to seek out technological innovation in areas where it is most advanced, such as MotoGP. Our aim is to integrate the most efficient products across different business lines, which will also see us function as an observatory for the scientific industrial world”
Attilio Cherubini, Head of Health, Safety, Environment and Quality, Enel
The safety jacket project also involves occupational health doctors and professors from the Alma Mater University and the Policlinico Sant’Orsola hospital in Bologna. Enel provided certain specifications around which the prototype was tailored. Its ergonomics and functionality are now being tested in the company workplace. Maurizio Rossetto, Head of Health and Safety of Enel’s HSEQ division, deems the safety jacket “smart clothing” and it is easy to see why: three accelerometers and three gyrometers relay a continuous stream of data which is analysed by an algorithm in the electronics. This can detect fall conditions and instantly activate airbags to protect the wearer’s chest, back and neck, and significantly reduce impacts.
The safety jacket’s design and usability have also been meticulously honed using automotive industry simulation programmes. The finished sections of the airbags are optimised to provide maximum protection to vital areas in falls of two metres and under (harnesses are not compulsory for these heights) and also pendulum impacts for wearers working at heights above two metres (where harnesses must be worn).
“The jacket flanks and works with other types of safety equipment but does not replace them. We are not content to simply adhere to current safety legislation. We are looking to the future and using the best that technology has to offer to make all workers safe”
Maurizio Rossetto, Head of Health and Safety, Enel HSEQ division
Comparison with high-risk sports
The most original aspect of the project has been the comparison between workplace safety requirements and the risk involved in extreme sports: impacts in sailing regattas can happen at 50 knots, at 150 km per hour in downhill skiing and at 350 km per hour in motorcycle racing. Rapid response speeds are as pivotal to protection as the robustness of the protective clothing or gear itself. This is why Enel chose to partner with Dainese, which in 1978 invented the world’s first back protector for motorcycling world champion Barry Sheene. That model hailed a genuine revolution in the sector, and was further honed over the years, its use eventually being extended to other disciplines such as downhill mountain-biking and Alpine skiing.
The next step was the launch in 2007 of the D-Air, the first electronically-controlled airbag body protection system which was used by Marco Simoncelli in the 250cc Class Grand Prix at Valencia. It instantly proved its worth when two 125cc Class drivers, Simone Grotsky Giorgi and Michael Ranseder, crashed.
The D-Air also went on to win the Italian Creativity Prize for its introduction of innovative technologies and materials. In 2011, the FIS (International Ski Federation) signed a protocol to research the application of the D-Air to high-speed skiing disciplines.
Thanks to coordination with Safety’s Project Synergy, headed by Lara Santarcangelo, D-Air Lab is now putting the finishing touches to the safety jacket, using data from the Enel employees’ workplace experience with it.
“The zero test phase involves wearing the safety jacket during day-to-day company activities, evaluating its comfort, wearability and how it interfaces with other safety gear. Data is recorded in the device’s electronics using data logging and then transmitted to D-Air Lab for ongoing honing”
Lara Santarcangelo, Unit Manager Project Synergy, Safety Division
The day when the new “smart wearable” will be officially adopted is getting closer. This time, however, there is more than one winner: because, for Enel, innovation and safety go hand in glove.