Breathing harmful chemicals, vapors, or particles is never a great idea, but certain occupations frequently put workers in air-quality harm’s way. Firefighters, for example, routinely enter areas with unknown and potentially dangerous substances in the air. We’ve written about AR-empowered wearables that enhance workplace safety and smart hard hats. We also covered personal air quality monitoring devices and mobile air sensors.

Engineers and social scientists from Colorado State University Walter Scott, Jr. College of Engineering are developing a wearable that can monitor for aerosol and vapor hazards. The design parameters include a device that is lightweight, inexpensive to produce, ready to go with little or no setup, and easy to use with little or no training. Occupational air quality threat-level ranks high enough that the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, a division of the Centers or Disease Control recently awarded the Colorado State team a four-year, $2.2-million grant to develop and use “radical new technologies and methods” to assess worker exposure to bad air at work.

The Colorado State goal is to create a name-tag-sized device. Once such a device is ready for initial testing, the researchers will test the technology with hundreds of workers who labor in potentially danger air. The populations considered for testing include oil and gas drillers, emergency responders, firefighters, and even product managers in select industries.

This project is in the early days, but we plan to track it closely to report developments. When we can all wear air quality badges similar to radiation exposure badges that change color or otherwise indicate problems, we’ll have taken a giant step forward to minimizing the dangers of polluted air.