They say prevention is better than cure and this old adage certainly rang true for David Greenberg when he founded EAVE, the company behind a new concept in reducing the risks associated with occupational disease. Combining hazard monitoring with risk management and mitigation, EAVE are able to offer a complete system.
The first application of this system targets Occupational Noise Induced Hearing Loss, the most common occupational disease of them all. With high quality adaptive hearing protection, communication in noise technology and a smart system for tracking real time exposures to noise hazards, EAVE’s product clearly has a market in heavy industry. So, Breakthrough Magazine visited David at his London office to hear all about it.
It’s fair to say that David Greenberg is no fan of noise. In fact, it was while he was working as a clinical audiologist in hospitals and trying to help people who had suffered Noise Induced Hearing Loss that David came up with his big idea.
“When I was fitting people with hearing aids, I would often have to put together a history of their noise exposure to find out why they lost their hearing,” he said.
“This could simply be because they had grown older, but often I would find that it was because they’d been exposed to noise at work. After meeting thousands of people, I thought, ‘This is ridiculous, so many people are losing their hearing because of their work.’ Noise Induced Hearing Loss is the most prevalent occupational disease."
“But when I asked them why they hadn’t been wearing ear protection, they would say that in order to do their job in a factory or construction site, they’d needed to communicate with their colleagues and they couldn’t do that while wearing ear defenders. So, it made sense to me to put communication functionality into the hearing protection itself.”
Nine months of development work resulted in EAVE WORK MKI, described as the world’s first intelligent ear defender headset - it recently won the Product Innovation of the Year Award at the Safety and Health Excellence Awards 2018.
The headset has three key features, the first and most obviously important being the ability to protect the wearer’s hearing to a high level. Dials on the headset allow the user to set their own personal noise level preference, but then EAVE’s Dynamic Range Compression Engine takes over.
“Most of the noise limitation is automated, so the technology is listening to what’s going on in the environment and setting the protection to the most appropriate level,” David said.
“Although you can still hear voices in the environment, your hearing is being protected. We’ve taken some technology from other areas where communication in noise is critical and basically brought it into a new market. Digital signal processing is quite a standard form of processing voice or background noise out of a signal. By analysing background noise and applying filters, you can enhance the important sound, which in most cases is speech."
Secondly, the WORK MKI eliminates more communication issues by connecting wirelessly with paired devices, which means the wearer can even take a phone call without removing their ear protection. However, with an eye to the different safety requirements that any given situation might dictate, clients have the ability to turn off certain functions, so that the wearer can make phone calls but not listen to music, for example.
But the feature that really sets the WORK MKI apart from its competitors is the third big USP - its real time data monitoring capability. This offers heavy industry companies a functionality that they’ve never had before, something that could make a world of difference to health and safety compliance.
“The headsets are connected to each other and to the internet, and they’re always collecting data about the location, time and noise level the user is experiencing at that moment,” David said. “They record thousands of these bits of data every second and then take an average every 10 seconds, but that can be modified to whatever the client needs. The client can then access that data at any time via a web browser.”
Using their software platform PEAK, EAVE can provide users with an extremely accurate noise map, which shows precisely who has experienced noise to what level, where, why and for how long. The Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005 state that noise is acceptable up to 80 decibels; between 80-85 decibels, there should be a risk assessment and hearing protection made available. Anything above 85 decibels and hearing protection becomes a legal requirement.
With immediate access to real time data and ‘noise dose’ calculations, safety officers and project managers can see when a wearer is being exposed to an unacceptable level of noise and take action as they see fit. They can even set up notifications, rather than being made aware of the problem after the damage has been done.
“We’re really walking in territory that hasn’t been covered before, as there are not regulations for this kind of technology or how noise dose imagery should work,” David said.
“The regulations say that you should have a map of where the noise is and make a new map whenever the noise in your environment changes. But anyone who works in noise knows that it changes from second to second, and is different every day. Without a real-time digital automated monitor, you would have to manually take readings and produce a report, which is a really time-intensive and expensive process. So, our idea is to automate that process, digitise it and make it available as a record."
“The industry knows about the issues around noise exposure - they’re currently paying out a lot of compensation for it. Statistics show that within six months of retiring is the most common time for former workers to make a claim for Noise-Induced Hearing Loss, but it’s very hard to say whether the loss is due to their employment, or to leisure exposure or just ageing. Having this data clears up a lot of that uncertainty.”
Although to date EAVE has only sold directly to select clients, at the time we spoke to David, he was anticipating the arrival of the injection mould that would enable mass production. The company was also completing the certification process and looking forward to working on the next product.
The name of the headset, MKI, suggests that EAVE has not finished innovating in this area. Indeed, this year the company has received two Innovate UK grants, mostly aimed at developing new technologies to enhance what will be WORK MKII. But David knows that this technology has the potential for many interesting applications that could be explored in the future.
“EAVE was officially founded in November 2015 but we spent the first year actually developing an ear-worn computer that could do lots of different things,” he said. “The technology was really flexible; we could look at real-time language translation, hearing enhancement, notification and so on. But in our first year we had to refine that and think about which market we should target first with this highly connected, earworn device."
“Because heavy industry already had regulations in place for ear protection and a big problem with Noise Induced Hearing Loss, but people were actively looking for a solution and already familiar with wearing protection, all these things suggested we start off with a smart ear defender. We are transitioning from pure R&D to sales and marketing, which means we can get started on our next product and everyone is very excited about that.”
EAVE has worked with Breakthrough funding, a company that helps UK SMEs achieve R&D tax credits - a government scheme created to enhance and reward innovation amongst UK businesses. Could you be eligible? Click here to learn more.
For more information, click here.