Watching Out for New York's Strongest


“How Might We Help Sanitation Workers Stay Alert on the Job?”

Sanitation workers have one of the highest fatality rates in America. Every day, they are out on the streets, and they risk getting hit by impatient drivers. A key reason for this problem is that workers become “numb” to hazards because they are immersed in the danger every day. To help them stay alert on the job, we created a smart glove that vibrates to warn workers of oncoming vehicles.

Being a sanitation worker is one of the most dangerous jobs in America. Sanitation workers in New York die more frequently than police officers or firefighters, a fact that surprises even sanitation workers partly because their deaths rarely get the same news coverage. They get hit by cars, poisoned by toxic chemicals, cut by rusty metal, and hit by objects that occasionally shoot out of the compactor in the back of their trucks. According to a cultural study, Picking Up: On the Streets and Behind the Trucks with the Sanitation Workers of New York City by New York University anthropologist Robin Nagle,

Sanitation workers, it turns out, have twice the fatality rates of police officers, and nearly seven times the fatality rates of firefighters.

Transportation incidents are the biggest cause, accounting for 69% of fatalities. In places like New York City, cars, trucks and buses are a constant threat. Impatient drivers squeezing around stopped trucks are a recipe for disaster. They know the job is dangerous: they just forget when they are immersed in the danger every day.

With crucial insights we got from our research, we realized that what we need is a solution to help these workers stay alert on the job. 

To help sanitations workers stay focused, we’ve created WristGuard, a smart glove that alerts workers in real time about oncoming vehicles. A quick buzz says: “A car is coming. Watch out! ” With WristGuard, workers no longer experience the rude shock of a car speeding by. It is paired with a tracking system in the garbage truck, which monitors oncoming traffic, and allows team members to keep track of each other around the truck.

Solution: WristGuard

Kohzy and I created this 4-minute video below as part of our submission to the IxDA Student Design Challenge for the Interaction16 conference and we were selected as the finalists to compete in Helsinki, Finland in March, 2016.