Wearables and Equitable Workplace Safety

Employers ought to consider the diversity of their workforce when aiming to improve safety and reduce the risk of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). Certain worker groups face disproportionate risk on the job, including workers of color, low-wage and older workers, and women. Because these communities make up the majority of frontline and essential workers, doing labor-intensive jobs, they face a greater risk of MSD-related injuries. 

To create workplaces that are equitable, safe, and healthy, organizations should be aware of workers that face a higher risk of MSDs due to individual and systemic factors. Understanding the risks each group faces can help employers to take inclusive action when implementing workplace safety solutions.

The CDC describes health equity as “when every person has the opportunity to attain his or her full health potential and no one is disadvantaged from achieving this potential because of social position or other socially determined circumstances.”

Diversity and Injury Inequities

According to the National Safety Council, jobs with greater MSD hazards are disproportionately occupied by low-wage workers and communities of color. 

  • Low-wage Workers are more likely to occupy labor-intensive positions and be exposed to higher injury risks. They’re also less likely to report MSD injuries to management out of fear of being dismissed, losing hours or being required to pay for rehabilitation on their own.
  • Workers of Color are more likely to be employed in low-wage positions and labor intensive and/or hazardous jobs. These workers are especially overrepresented in safety-critical occupations like warehousing, housekeeping and healthcare. Workers of color are less likely to report MSD injuries to management because they’re often afraid of discrimination. Furthermore, language barriers among immigrant and minority populations may prevent them from reporting concerns or seeking medical care.

Four out of 10 frontline workers in the U.S. identify as Black, Hispanic and/or Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI), or as a category other than white.

Center for Economic and Policy Research

Older workers and women also face a disproportionate safety risk on the job when it comes to MSD-related injuries.

  • Older Workers makeup an increasing share of industrial workers, with the transportation, manufacturing, and warehousing sectors in particular employing an older-than-average workforce. These workers, especially those in labor-intensive industries, are at higher risk of injury. Their bodies’ ability to recover from work declines with age, increasing the risk of developing an MSD. And a history of an MSD increases the risk of a future MSD. Finally, older workers often require more time away from work to recover from injuries than younger workers. 

Private industry workers aged 65 years or over had a median of 14 days away from work due to injuries and illnesses in 2020, compared to all private industry workers who had a median of 12 days away from work.

  • Women account for two-thirds of frontline workers, representing over 75% of U.S. healthcare workers and over 85% of child care and social services workers. These female-dominated sectors and occupations involve tasks that put workers more at risk of developing MSDs, especially those involving repetitive high risk movements, such as manually handling patients. Additionally, workplaces that don’t recognize and design work for the physical differences of female workers can also impact the risk of injury.

Women in the workforce are at disproportionately high risk for musculoskeletal injuries on the job, suffering 63% of all work-related repetitive motion injuries.

Centers for disease control and prevention

All employees, regardless of socioeconomic status, race, age, or gender, need equal resources to protect themselves from injuries on the job. Wearable technology is an equitable injury prevention solution for the industrial workforce, providing workers with continuous coaching to prevent high risk movements and employers with actionable data that enhance risk assessment. 

Inclusive Risk Prevention and Assessment

Risk prevention and assessment strengthen an organization’s commitment to an equitable workplace, and wearables are an effective tool for preventing workplace injury. Here are five ways a wearable safety solution can make your company a more equitable and safer place to work:

  1. Wearables are widely accessible. Wearables can be deployed across an entire workforce regardless of socio-economic status, age, gender, or race. The devices can give employees from historically excluded backgrounds opportunities to test out innovative safety technology they may otherwise not have access to. 
  1. Wearables are easy to use. Ensuring workers can fully utilize safety solutions is integral to their success. Effective wearable safety devices are designed for easy user adoption. They have a simple form factor, like an unobtrusive hip-mounted device, that is designed to be applicable and valid for every person who wears it, regardless of body type or size.
  1. Wearables evolve with your workforce. An inclusive, equity-focused approach to safety is an ongoing process, requiring dynamic solutions that can adapt to a changing workforce. Unlike one-time training, wearables continuously coach employees – both new and veteran – on how to move properly on the job. They can help employers to discover new sources of risk as work conditions evolve, and as the composition of their workforce changes. 
  1. Wearables allow continuous evaluation of outcomes. Regularly evaluating the effectiveness of a safety solution is an integral part of a commitment to equitable outcomes. Wearable device data allows employers to measure the impact of ergonomic workplace improvements, such as training opportunities and work process redesigns. Data analysis reveals the outcomes of reduced high risk movements and, in turn, injuries.
  1. Wearables enhance equitable safety culture. By empowering employees to engage in the safety process, wearables help reinforce a positive and equitable culture of safety. A wearable safety program creates ongoing opportunities for employees to participate in productive feedback as a team and propose new safety solutions to management. 

Equitable Access to Wearable Tech

At Kinetic Insurance, our mission is to improve the lives of frontline workers – we have a goal to reduce one million injuries in the next decade. We know expanding how many workers wear our device gets us closer to that goal.  By including the tech for free as part of our innovative workers’ compensation program, we hope to make it accessible to companies that employ frontline workers, and who otherwise may not have the resources for a wearable safety program.