Workplace Safety Technology From a Vendor's Perspective

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Posted by: CMR January 3, 2024 No Comments

The evolving workplace and role of the worker are top of mind for workers’ compensation stakeholders. One of the rising industry concerns about the shifting workforce and workplace is the potential impact to the frequency and severity of on-the-job injuries.

As part of its ongoing dialogue with workers’ compensation stakeholders around the country, NCCI is often asked about the status of safety technology being utilized in the workplace, such as wearable devices.

In this article, we relay the perspectives gained from separately interviewing representatives from six technology providers at various stages of creating, introducing and implementing workplace safety technology. Some of the key questions from these interviews included:

  • How does the product improve safety?
  • What is the potential impact on injury reduction?
  • What are the obstacles for implementation?

How does the product improve safety?

Our interviews revealed that workplace safety technologies generally tend to focus on either the individual worker or on the workplace environment. However, some safety technologies focus on more than one area.

Individual worker focus: This type of safety technology includes wearables, exoskeletons and ergonomic assessment applications. Generally, these are devices that workers wear on their bodies that focus on factors related to a specific worker such as posture and body temperature. These devices often provide an ergonomic or risk assessment intended to address worker behavior. Some provide feedback directly to workers, including real-time haptic feedback. Others may provide feedback to both workers and managers via a dashboard.

Workplace environment focus: These technologies aim to provide a more comprehensive view of the workplace and include video technology synced with multiple cameras in the work facility. These devices can detect safety hazards such as spills on the floor, poor lighting, congested workspaces, and other obstacles that may create inefficient operations and safety issues. The information is then delivered to floor or safety managers so they can act.

One tech provider uses videos that pull directly from existing cameras to evaluate potential hazards. This can provide a 24/7 eye on the facility. Another provider uses wearable technology to capture environmental conditions including air quality, sound and air pressure. Yet another video technology captures the workplace environment, which is subsequently uploaded and reviewed to provide and recommend actionable items.

Multiple focus points: Workplace safety technologies that address both the individual worker and the workplace environment include a wearable that detects a worker’s proximity to hazards as well as air temperature, air quality and noise levels in the workspace. Another example is video technology that provides feedback on worker lifting techniques and identifies workplace hazards.

Regardless of whether the safety technology focuses on the individual worker, the workplace environment or both, the technologies share a common feature of providing feedback for improvement. The safety technology providers distribute this feedback and support to their customers in various ways, including detailed analytical reports, online dashboards, safety consultations and direct feedback to workers in the moment.

What is the potential impact on injury reduction?

The technology providers interviewed gave several illustrative examples as to the potential impact the technologies may have on injury reductions and workers’ compensation claims. While NCCI does not have data to assess the impacts independently, here are some of the examples that the technology providers shared:

Video AI/computer vision: One provider shared that after implementing the technology, a window and door manufacturing company reported a 95% reduction in overhead lift high-risk postures, a 59% reduction in waist bend high-risk postures and a 59% reduction in squatting high-risk postures.

Another provider reported that an automotive manufacturing company that implemented its AI-powered video analytics achieved an 86% drop in forklift safety incidents and helped prevent slip and fall injuries. They further shared that the implementation also optimized workflows by identifying “unseen” operational inefficiencies and improved equipment utilization.

Wearables: One provider reported that a manufacturer had a reduction of 62% in injury rates and 49% in claims costs over the course of 12 months. Further, an insurer had a 43% reduction in primarily strain, sprain and overexertion injuries over five policyholders’ facilities during a 12-month period.

In another example, within the first two quarters of deployment of wearables, data collected from nine manufacturing sites showed a 19% reduction in OSHA-recordable injury rates (strain/sprain) among all employees, compared to the same period the previous year. Additionally, data from the device provided customizable insights into how employees were moving while performing their jobs, which led to new opportunities to improve workplace ergonomics.

Another provider reported that policyholders piloting the safety technology have reduced workers’ compensation claim frequency by 50% or more and severity by 90% over a three-to-six-month timeframe.

Exoskeleton: One provider’s exoskeleton suit learns to recognize unique body positions and responds by providing power and support when needed, then it records and reports the motion activity for better understanding of daily movements and insights over time. According to the provider, 77% of users reported a reduction of injuries and 86% reported a reduction in body fatigue.

Ergonomic application: According to one provider, a distribution center operation implemented its ergonomics software to determine poor postures in employees, the frequency of certain movements and how long poses are held. The software offers automatic recommendations on which postures should be corrected and what parts of the body should be considered for adjustment with estimates of risk reduction.

After six months, safety staff shared that they felt more empowered and found the software led to more healthy collaboration between safety teams and line workers. The distribution center noted that it experienced a 68% decrease in recorded musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs).

What are the obstacles for implementation?

The safety technology providers identified several obstacles to implementing their products. These included privacy concerns, the cost of the product, employer safety culture and lack of awareness.

Privacy concerns: The safety technology providers stated that privacy concerns continue to be an obstacle to implementing their products. Workers may not trust what their employers are doing with the data collected from a wearable or video, especially if they do not fully understand the purpose of the product. However, it was noted that education, communication and transparency may in some cases help alleviate these privacy concerns.

Some technology providers shared that they go to great lengths to address data privacy concerns, including blurring worker faces in videos and aggregating or not storing data. One of the providers noted data encryption may be utilized so that no one other than users with an encryption key can view the video — not even the product developers.

Product cost: Another potential obstacle to implementation is the cost of the safety technology product. Customers may be charged for the products and technologies in various ways, including fees per device and subscription charges, while some do not charge for upfront costs. The providers work with both workers’ compensation insurers and employers to make their products available and may offer their products complimentary as part of an insurance policy or distribute it directly to insurers to share with insured employers. The technology providers noted that customer costs may also be offset in some cases by potential insurance premium credits and other incentives, if available.

Employer safety culture: Technology providers reaffirmed that for safety technology to be successfully employed and adopted, the customer must value a culture of safety. This includes support from leadership and buy-in from workers and middle management. “The most challenging part is to get everyone aligned in order to make the change,” one technology provider said.

Awareness of product: Several interviewees identified lack of awareness about the technologies and potential results as a major challenge to implementation. They shared that this lack of awareness was more prevalent with small to mid-sized employers and is one reason for slower growth in the industry.

This article was published in a longer-form on the NCCI website and is reprinted here with permission. It has been edited for length.

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Article Written By: Damian England, Yuchen Su, Raji H. Chadarevian and Laura Kersey

Author: CMR

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