October is National Ergonomics Month. Designated by the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society in 2003, it’s a month dedicated to promoting the importance of ergonomics in the workplace. At Kinetic, we’re honoring the month by highlighting industrial ergonomics safety and the role wearable technology plays in keeping industrial workers safe.
Industrial Workplaces are a Risky Business
The jobs industrial employees perform, from auto mechanics to housekeepers to nurses, are often labor-intensive and include inherent hazards. When you add to this a growing push for productivity plus industrial safety tech that hasn’t changed in decades, these frontline workers face a higher-than-average number of ergonomic risk factors on the job, often leading to injury.
Consider a warehouse worker who is repetitively reaching overhead to select items; an employee on the shop floor who is constantly twisting to sort materials; or a delivery driver who bends, again and again, to load and unload products. These awkward postures and repetitive movements can strain employees’ musculoskeletal systems and, over time, lead to musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) – the most frequent and costly type of workplace injuries.
The leading cause of workplace injuries in 2019 was overexertion.
- Nearly 2 million workers suffer from work-related MSDs every year.
- Over 30% of lost work days are attributed to workplace MSDs
- MSDs are responsible for almost 30% of all workers’ compensation costs.
Reduce Ergonomic Risks with Wearables
An ergonomic solution that helps frontline workers improve the way they move on the job, in a long-lasting way, elevates a company’s safety process and benefits both their employees’ well-being and their bottom line. Thanks to advancements in sensors and data science, wearable devices can be leveraged in the industrial workplace to change worker behaviors and uncover the specific ergonomic risks employees are encountering.
Wearable tech leads to 2 key operational advantages:
1. Ergonomic wearables use sensors that can automatically recognize risky movements and alert users with a light vibration each time one is performed. These real-time alerts help workers create new habits and drive sustained behavior change that reduces the number of high-risk postures performed. In turn, employees experience fewer injuries and lost workdays, are more productive, and find their work more rewarding.
> For example, an industrial employee who was performing nearly 400 high-risk postures on the job each day reduced his number to 38 – a 90% reduction! – with wearable tech. The employee reported that he no longer has back pain when he goes to sleep at night.
2. Wearable tech also produces data that provide insights into how to improve workplace ergonomics, enabling employers to make data-driven decisions that lead to quantifiable results. With this information, employers can see exactly:
- who is performing high-risk postures,
- what those movements are,
- and when, where, and even why they’re occurring.
> For example, wearable data revealed a machinist at a construction equipment company was performing an average of 97 high-risk postures each day as he bent and twisted to place parts from a table into a machine. With this insight, the company modified the work process by adding a raised platform to the table. The redesign reduced the employee’s high-risk postures to 36 – a 64% reduction.
Ergonomic Wearables and Workers’ Comp
The Institute in Medicine estimates the economic burden of work-related MSDs, as measured by workers’ compensation costs, lost wages, and lost productivity, is between $45 and $54 billion annually. For just MSD-related workers’ compensation costs alone, a recent annual cost estimate for U.S. companies was nearly $33 billion.
When companies deploy wearables to reduce high-risk movements among their workforce, they have fewer work-related injuries, which means fewer workers’ compensation claims, and fewer expenses. In environments where high strain and sprain injury rates are present – such as among frontline industrial workers – wearables can reduce workers’ compensation claims costs by 50%.
> For example, a storage and information management company outfitted 400 employees, including drivers and material handling associates, in five of their warehouses with wearable tech. In one year, they reduced the cost of workers’ compensation claims by 58%.
Wearables are now more accessible to companies of all sizes than ever before as innovative workers’ compensation policies are providing wearable safety technology to policyholders at no extra cost. These prevention-focused programs include devices designed to prevent workplace injuries, helping to increase worker productivity and lower claims and costs.