Tech

Wearable Technology in Preventing Workplace Injuries

Injuries at work negatively impact productivity, cause absenteeism, and increase costs. According to the International Labor Organization, workplace deaths have spiked by over 12% in the last two decades. More than 700,000 injuries and 2,000 fatalities were reported by GAO in 2022. This is evident among workers in the warehousing, manufacturing, and construction industries.

 

Wearable technology is emerging as a powerful tool to address these concerns. By providing real-time data on workers’ movements and environments, wearables help reduce injuries, improve safety protocols, and enhance overall productivity. Let us learn the basis of wearable technology for preventing workplace injuries. 

Understanding Wearable Technology

Wearable technology encompasses devices like smart belts, exoskeletons, and sensor-equipped clothing. Workers put on these devices to monitor and improve their physical activity. 

 

Collecting real-time data on movement, posture, and environmental factors, these devices help identify and mitigate risks before they cause injuries. This real-time data on workers’ movements and surroundings provides insights into hazardous activities. 

 

The data can be further analyzed to identify patterns and suggest preventive measures. Wearables also offer immediate feedback to correct risky behaviors and enable proactive risk management by identifying high-risk tasks and environments.

Mitigating Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSDs)

MSDs, like back pain and repetitive strain injuries, account for about one-third of all workplace injuries in the US. Thus, corporations need to address these conditions to improve workplace welfare.

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At an Albertsons Company facility, employees working in distribution centers often face physical strain from lifting and moving heavy objects. Implementing the SafeLift Exosuit by Verve Motion could significantly reduce the risk of back injuries. The tool can alleviate about 40% of the strain on workers’ backs during their tasks​. Wearable suits reduce muscle and joint strain while lifting heavy objects or repeating tasks.

 

Sensors can monitor a worker’s posture and movements, comparing the data before and after using supportive devices like exoskeletons. This helps quantify the effectiveness of such interventions and build a business case for their broader implementation. Wearable technology, for example, helped PepsiCo lower injuries. They have prioritized monitoring workers’ working patterns and guided them to reduce improper lifting, bending, and other ergonomic behaviors. 

Preventing Collision and Proximity Risks

Collisions with machinery are another major source of workplace injuries. Wearable technology can significantly reduce these risks. Smart vests and helmets with proximity sensors, for instance, notify employees when approaching dangerous zones or moving machinery too closely. This technology is found to lower the incidence of such accidents by providing real-time alerts and warnings​. 

 

Devices like the Modjoul SmartBelt can alert both workers and machine operators when they are too close to each other. Using beacon and ultrawideband (UWB) technology, these wearables provide real-time alerts to prevent collisions. Additionally, alerts can be set up in blind spots or areas with heavy machinery operations to warn workers of dangers.

Stopping Falls from Heights

Fall-related injuries are of high priority as they are often fatal. Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) highlighted that the construction industry, though only 6% of the U.S. workforce, accounted for 20% of workplace fatalities. 

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Recently, a St. Louis, MO, contractor faced a fine of $258,000 for pushing employees toward potentially deadly hazards. A St. Louis personal injury attorney can guide such victims and fight to enforce safety standards rigorously to protect workers’ rights.

 

Wearable devices can detect if a worker is in a high-risk area and is not properly tethered. Devices with accelerometers can alert the worker and the site supervisor of imminent falls. Additionally, devices like smartwatches can monitor and alert workers to unsafe positions or movements that increase the risk of falls.

Managing Heat Stress in Construction

Construction sites are one of the most at-risk workplaces, as reported by TorHoerman Law. Extreme weather is a common occurrence for construction workers, which increases their risk of heat stress and related injuries. 

 

At a Fujitsu factory, smart wristwear has been used to issue alerts at heat stress signs. This technology could similarly benefit construction sites, where notifying workers about body temperature and hydration levels can mitigate heat-related injuries.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can wearable technology help comply with safety regulations?

Yes, wearable technology can track and log safety practices, ensuring workers adhere to regulations. Wearables, like smart wristbands, helmets, and clothing with sensors, can monitor signs of danger. These devices also enable predictive analysis, allowing organizations to identify and put down risks before they result in incidents. 

What industries benefit the most from wearable technology?

Industries like construction, manufacturing, warehousing, and mining benefit from wearable technology. These sectors face high risks of physical injuries and environmental hazards, which wearables can help mitigate​. Further, healthcare is another primary beneficiary, where wearables make remote care and predictive diagnostics much easier. 

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Can wearable technology help in monitoring environmental hazards?

Yes, wearable smart systems can detect harmful substances like gases and VOCs in the surroundings, providing real-time alerts to workers. Furthermore, these devices, with intelligent sensors, notify users when they are in the presence of harmful pollutants. Possible pollutants include sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, and nitrogen dioxide. 

What challenges are associated with deploying wearable technology in workplaces?

Data privacy, employee acceptance, and proper training are challenges. Ensuring the security of this data is also challenging, as many wearable devices lack robust encryption. Hence, it may make them vulnerable to cyberattacks. Moreover, the high initial costs of acquiring and implementing wearable technology can be prohibitive for many organizations, especially small businesses. 

 

To conclude, wearable technology holds significant promise for enhancing workplace safety and preventing injuries. As businesses adopt these technologies, the workplace can become a safer and more productive environment for all employees.

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