10:10 pm January 14, 2019

Wearable Tech: What’s Missing to Impact Workplace Injuries

Source: Brian Boyle, PT, DPT

Have you become a part of the wearable craze at your worksite yet? To date, there are roughly 65 companies and growing, all fighting for a position in the “wearable tech” market. These companies are jockeying for position to try to tap into the multi-trillion dollar health, wellness and injury market to help with workplace injury prevention. Providing real time feedback to the user and to supervisors/managers could in theory change the way we look at body mechanics, fatigue levels and injury prevention solutions as we know it. But is it really that simple—can you strap a piece of technology on an employee and really keep them safe?  Is there a missing ingredient?

Results from a Pilot Program

According to an article in Risk & Insurance about a pilot program by AIG, a leading global insurance organization, there may be hope. So far, AIG has completed pilots with five clients across the construction, manufacturing and agriculture sectors, collecting more than 254,000 hours of data. And who better to have a vested interest in employee safety than an insurance company who has to pay out when there is a recordable injury?

From the AIG pilot programs, some themes have started to emerge that show a positive step in the right direction for the wearables market. Wearables can help isolate processes or movements which may be unsafe well before they are likely to result in an injury to workers. They can also identify workflow processes that may be contributing to recurring injuries in the workforce. For example, if an employee has to lean over because print on a label is too small, making the print larger can reduce the need for the employee to bend over as often. Behavior modification by employees has also been seen. Wearing a device makes workers hyperaware of harmful movements, which naturally drives an effort to improve.

In addition to the AIG pilot, a new report by the American Society of Safety Professionals also identified another benefit of wearables.  Employee fatigue is a well-known cause of injuries and wearables can now be used to monitor this area. If a wearable detects that a worker’s body mechanics decline sharply after three hours of work, it can highlight a need to job rotate and shift workers to different tasks at certain times to reduce that fatigue.

Missing Ingredient—The People to Technology Connection

While the pilot programs so far have been positive, successfully using wearables for injury prevention requires more than simply putting them on people.  It’s critical to have someone in place who understands the people side of injury prevention and how to integrate wearables.  A physical therapist, who specializes in working onsite with employers and understands anatomy, prevention, ergonomics and more, can offer that connection and help companies identify what to use, create a plan and monitor results.

It has been well documented that access to equipment does not mean proficiency in use and knowledge of correct usage. Someone has to monitor information and do something with it. By having a physical therapist onsite to actively engage with the employee in real-time, they can take information and recommend specifics on addressing poor body mechanics, behavior modification/job coaching, fatigue reduction and process flow improvement. This human interface plays an essential role in wearable program success, leading to a measurable return-on-investment in reducing recordable injury expense.

If you’re considering a wearables program, WorkWell can share experiences of what works and what doesn’t.  Contact us today.

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