02 May 2018
IoT to play lead role in protecting agricultural workers – but more skills urgently needed
The farm of the future will leverage IoT technologies to create safer working environments and drive down risks to the workforce, according to Inmarsat.
For its The Future of IoT in Enterprise study, the UK-based global satellite company interviewed 100 agritech companies from across the world and found that 49 per cent consider improving health and safety as one of their primary motivations for developing IoT solutions.
That’s ahead of monitoring environmental changes (48 per cent) and identifying efficiency gains and cost saving opportunities (45 per cent).
Citing research from the International Labour Organisation (ILO), Inmarsat says agriculture continues to be the world’s most dangerous industry where the rate of fatal accidents remains high.
According to ILO estimates, 170,000 agricultural workers are killed each year, and millions more suffer injuries from accidents with machinery or negative long-term health effects from exposure to agrochemicals and pesticides.
Chris Harry-Thomas, director of agritech strategy at Inmarsat Enterprise, says: “Automated systems, enabled by IoT, can reduce risk by removing workers from the most dangerous procedures, such as lifting heavy materials or operating dangerous machinery.
"Automated machinery can also typically respond quicker to emergencies, monitoring and stopping equipment before there is a threat to worker safety.”
He adds that the industry is also leveraging the IoT through wearable technologies. “These devices, integrated into watches, helmets and clothing, can detect falls and monitor staff health through heart rate and temperature, enabling agricultural businesses to react more quickly to emergencies and bring rapid-response medical attention to injured staff.”
Planting seeds for the future
Inmarsat’s study also warns that IoT’s potential to drive innovation and increased productivity in the agricultural sector is under threat from a lack of skills.
It says agritech businesses must “urgently” upskill current employees and embark on recruitment drives to ensure they have the capabilities to deliver the technology.
The survey found that while more than 46 per cent of agritech businesses reported full deployment of IoT solutions and a further 16 per cent have initiated a partial deployment, many currently lack the skills needed to do so effectively.
Sixty-five per cent identified a shortfall of the strategic skills needed for the management and delivery of IoT deployments, and more than 50 per cent said they lacked staff with the specific skillsets required.
For instance, 55 per cent identified a shortage in cyber security personnel, with analytical and data science skills coming in second in demand at 53 per cent.
“Competing with the likes of Silicon Valley tech companies for skilled staff will be a challenge for the agritech industry,” says Harry-Thomas. “But as these businesses look to take on the burden of data security to build market share in the agriculture sector, it is critical that they recruit staff with the capability to do so.
"[They] must upskill their existing staff and attract new talent if they are to develop successful IoT solutions. However, longer term, the focus needs to be on establishing strategic partnerships with IoT specialists.”