How wearable technology is transforming Health and Safety in the workplace

Artificial intelligence (AI) and wearable technology devices are transforming Health and Safety Policy in the US and are now starting to make inroads into the UK.  This technology has the potential to reshape how businesses train staff and develop health and safety policies within organisations and key to that transformation is the detailed real time data that these wearable devices can learn and collect about the workplace environment. It has the ability to track individual task movements around specific job roles and monitor how risky movements can be mitigated over time, using a combination of targeted training and smart technology.   

All this matters because workplace accidents and injuries, such as musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), are one of the biggest causes of dips in productivity and one of the main reasons that workers take time off sick in the UK.  According to the latest figures from the Health and Safety Executive, the total number of cases of work-related MSDs in 2021/22 in the UK, was 477,000 and a more recent 2023 survey conducted by the CIPD and Simplyhealth found that 51% of long term sickness absences in the UK are caused by musculoskeletal injuries. Wearable technologies have the ability to help businesses reduce these numbers dramatically by collecting and tracking detailed employee data to focus on where the biggest risks to workplace safety lie. 

In the UK, AI solutions such as the WearHealth exoskeleton scanning technology and the Modjoul SmartBelt are just starting to come onto the market bringing disruptive change. These AI data-driven solutions allow for a more advanced level of protection for workers at high risk of workplace injury, particularly in physical roles in sectors including construction, warehouse picking and packing and manufacturing.  The wearable technology is a quick and easy way for employers to collect detailed data that can help them to track workplace activity and plan for a more rigorous health and safety training regime.  

How does it work? 

 

There are a number of wearable technology solutions on the market.  For example, technology providers like WearHealth specialise in matching the right exoskeleton suit to the physical activity being performed, with the aim of ensuring that the suit can assist in the usual daily tasks without the wearer being exposed to musculoskeletal injury as a result.  Video scanning technology is used to assess a particular task, make recommendations for possible exoskeleton suits, and then report on this with sensor analysis of the activity. The sensors are worn by the worker to allow for analysis of a selected exosuit and determine comfort and support based on real time data generated during the task. The right exoskeleton for that task can then be fitted and used as required based on the potential effectiveness and useability. 

AI powered algorithms within the technology being worn can identify and feed back to management in real time, delivering analytic reports on what activities contribute to the occurrence of injuries, which means that they can ensure that they proactively intervene to minimise risks. Predictive analytics can also help optimise work schedules, how workload is distributed and task assignments to reduce the likelihood of injuries.  

For jobs that require a lot of physical lifting and stretching in environments like warehousing and construction, it is the newer staff that are often at most at risk of injury.  In fact, wearable technology statistics show us that within the first two months of employment, there is a 70% increased risk of injury and that 1 in 8 of all workplace injuries happen on an employee’s first few weeks on the job.  Targeted use of wearable technology like the Modjoul SmartBelt, which emits a haptic buzz when the wearer performs a risky movement, or the WearHealth exoskeleton scanning solutions, can be used to cut those injury and accident figures to a minimum and can also be tracked to ensure that they are achieving the best possible results. 

Anti-collision technology 

Another benefit of wearable technology is the ability to keep the workplace environment safe.  For example, when people and machines operate together in close proximity, the likelihood for workplace accidents inevitably rises.  The statistics bear this out.  In the UK, between 2016-2019,  43% of forklift truck incidents involved impact with a third person and 65% of these involved pedestrians unconnected with the activities of the forklift. These figures from the UK Materials Handling Association clearly show that danger is heightened when people work in an environment that contains mechanical vehicles such as forklift trucks, diggers and cranes.   However, AI wearable technology is tackling this issue head on to help cut workplace accidents.  For example, Modjoul’s wearable SmartBelt communicates with forklift drivers and other workers in the vicinity, while simultaneously measuring ergonomics and environmental factors.  If a forklift is nearby the technology will alert both the driver of the forklift and the individual concerned so that they can avoid each other.  This is particularly useful in areas where vision may be restricted such as blind corners.  It means that in workplaces where workers and machines co-exist together, processes can operate more safely than ever before. 

The devices simultaneously collect data and measure ergonomics and environmental factors ensuring that there is detailed data into potential near misses in specific zones.  

Results driven planning 

Once the data analysis has identified weak points and a comprehensive step by step health and safety plan has been drawn up, organisations can adopt a more proactive approach to risk management using a combination of training and use of wearable technology to help bring about gradual behaviour change across an organisation. The changes can be tracked using real time data using target setting and ongoing assessments.   

Effective planning measures may include: 

  • More comprehensive training on certain aspects of the job role looking at specific groups based on risk factors such as age, new starters, riskiest activities etc 

 

  • Involving staff in targets and improvements e.g. reward based systems. In the US, they have found that if workers themselves are able to track their own progress either on their own mobile phones via a bespoke app or on supplied in house technology, they are more invested in their own health and wellbeing. So for example, they can track their performance and see whether they are reducing their hazardous movements.  This can be potentially linked to a rewards-based system where they may get a reward when they hit specific targets.  

 

  • Tracking progress post training to ensure that employees stay on track and act on the training they have had on risk avoidance.  Where weaknesses are identified, wearable technology can be used to help to reinforce correct movement and avoid potential injury. 

By using data analysis in this way, a more accurate and targeted training regime can be implemented.  Studies from the US have shown that accident figures substantially decrease once the technology has identified which riskier tasks need to be targeted with further training and continued monitoring using the wearable technology. 

 

 

Return on investment 

There is no denying that wearable technology costs money to roll out across a business, but the US model has shown that this initial outlay is soon recouped as sickness and injury levels drop, injury claims are far less frequent, and health and safety budgets are spent more wisely.  As the US is already demonstrating, this technology can also improve productivity and efficiency for certain tasks whilst improving health and wellbeing. We would not be able to know that without access to real time data.   Businesses can now have access to solid information that can be used to underpin health and safety decision making and transform staff health and wellbeing.  

To arrange a FREE 30 minute consultation to understand how wearable technology can help your team, email [email protected]

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