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How wearable devices are changing the future of workplace safety

NOV. 01, 2020

KEY HIGHLIGHTS

  • As big data drives more decisions and computing power increases, many organizations are turning to technological solutions to better address safety concerns.
  • Of all the potential solutions available to employers, wearable devices offer some of the most effective functionality.
  • It’s crucial for companies to understand what wearables are and how they can be used to enhance workplace safety initiatives.

 

When it comes to protecting their workers, organizations are always looking for an edge. That makes sense, because employees are the lifeblood of most organizations, and workplace injuries are a significant cost driver for employers. In fact, according to the most recent figures from the National Safety Council, workplace injuries cost employers more than $161.5 billion annually in lost productivity, medical expenses and administrative costs.1

As big data drives more decisions and computing power increases, many organizations are turning to technological solutions to better address safety concerns. Of all the potential solutions available to employers, wearable devices – often simply referred to as “wearables” – offer some of the most effective functionality.

Wearables are electronic devices that can be comfortably worn on the body. These devices may be equipped with sensors, GPS systems, heartrate monitors and other functionality that can help organizations track specific metrics related to workplace health and safety.

As the price of wearables decreases, more and more middle-market businesses are considering implementing these devices. It’s crucial for companies to understand what wearables are and how they can be used to enhance workplace safety initiatives.

What safety applications do wearables provide?

For many years, wearables were simply exciting gadgets that didn’t necessarily have specific use cases for businesses. However, wearables are increasingly providing practical business applications for organizations looking to boost workplace safety. In fact, wearables – such as smartwatches, smart eyewear, wearable cameras and wearable sensors – can provide the following functionality:

MONITORING

Wearables may be equipped with sensors that help employees track behaviors that increase their risk of injury. In addition to monitoring things such as heart rate and signs of fatigue, wearables can alert workers of poor posture or instances when they’re overexerting themselves. This in turn makes employees more aware of their bodies and risky habits they may have when performing physically demanding tasks that involve bending, lifting or pushing. Continued monitoring can even reduce an employee’s risk of sprains, strains and other related musculoskeletal disorders – which account for one in every three workplace injuries, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).2

ALERTING

Certain types of wearables are designed to alert employees of potentially dangerous situations. For instance, they can notify workers of unsafe levels of noise, explosion hazards or harmful toxins. This promotes prompt safety communication and quick employee responses.

TEACHING

Continued training is one of the best ways to reduce the threat of injuries, and wearables can streamline this process for organizations. Certain wearables can help workers perform specific tasks more accurately by providing real-time instruction. In addition, motion monitors can give employees instant feedback if they’re using an improper or potentially dangerous technique when completing a task.

Benefits of wearables

An employee holding a clipboard speaking with another employee who is driving a forklift in a warehouseWearables are invaluable tools for companies looking to identify their greatest workplace safety challenges. These devices aid in the passive observation of employees, and they collect useful safety data that would otherwise be difficult or expensive for businesses to gather.

By analyzing this data, organizations can gain insight into the behaviors of their workers as well as recurring safety concerns (e.g., slips and falls). This allows organizations to pinpoint their most pressing workplace safety hazards and address them with targeted solutions.

Furthermore, a proactive approach that leverages wearable data allows organizations to make better use of their time and effort, increasing ROI when it comes to improving safety initiatives. This is especially true for small and midsize businesses where safety personnel have multiple roles. Using a wearable device to track the number of at-risk postures, near misses and other accident predictors allows those charged with workplace safety to focus on implementing solutions rather than spending resources collecting data to quantify and analyze the problem.

Simply put, businesses that utilize wearable devices can reduce the costs associated with workers’ compensation, insurance claims, lost productivity and medical expenses.

That’s why Nationwide has invested in KINETIC, makers of a smart wearable device and software platform designed to reduce workplace injuries, which last year cost U.S. employers almost $60 billion. The device helps workers incorporate better body mechanics by providing real-time feedback in the form of a vibration to the wearer, reinforcing safer body mechanics every time a risky motion occurs. An accompanying dashboard helps managers understand where the next injury might happen by showing increases in risk by department, time of day or job type.

KINETIC has been successful in reducing OSHA-recordable injury rates by 54 percent and lost workdays by 88 percent. It’s been deployed to more than 21,000 workers at more than 150 locations, including six Fortune 50 companies. Through the Nationwide investment, they are expecting to dramatically expand their reach.

Considerations to keep in mind

While wearables can help identify and analyze workplace safety issues, they shouldn’t be viewed as a cure-all. The truth is that they don’t solve underlying safety issues on their own, and wearables should be used as a component of larger risk management strategies – strategies that still utilize more traditional risk mitigation techniques to correct issues.

Wearables can also introduce a number of privacy concerns into the workplace, according to ISACA. For example, employees may be sensitive to the types of data employers collect, such as their location and productivity information. To ease this fear, organizations should clearly communicate how employee data will be used and illustrate all the benefits wearables provide for both the employee and employer. While utilizing wearables can lead to cost savings, their ultimate purpose is to protect the health and well-being of a company’s staff. Businesses that focus on this fact will probably find it much easier to secure employee buy-in.

 

KEY TAKEAWAYS

  1. Wearables are invaluable tools for companies looking to identify their greatest workplace safety challenges.
  2. Businesses that utilize wearable devices can reduce the costs associated with workers’ compensation, insurance claims, lost productivity and medical expenses.
  3. While wearables can help identify and analyze workplace safety issues, they shouldn’t be viewed as a cure-all.

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