Wearables in Workers’ Comp, Part 1: The Dangers of High Risk Postures

With 30,000 workplace injuries happening each day in the U.S., employers are continually looking for ways to improve the safety of their workplace and the wellbeing of their employees, and to lower their workers’ compensation insurance costs. Addressing musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) – the most frequent and costly type of workplace injuries – is a good place to focus one’s attention.

  • MSDs are the single largest category of workplace injuries and are responsible for almost 30 percent of all workers’ compensation costs. (BLS)
  • Employers spend as much as $20 billion a year on direct costs for MSD-related workers’ compensation. (OSHA)
  • 1 of every 3 dollars spent on workers’ compensation is attributed to insufficient ergonomic protection. (OSHA)

MSDs result from strain to the musculoskeletal system caused by repetitive awkward postures performed on the job. Think of a warehouse worker repeatedly reaching overhead to select items; an employee on the shop floor constantly twisting to sort materials; or a delivery driver bending at the waist again and again to load and unload products. When these workers move their bodies improperly, day after day, their injury risk increases.

Improper postures performed repetitively on the job strain workers’ musculoskeletal systems, increasing their risk of an MSD-related injury. 

Wearable technology can help employers mitigate this injury risk, protecting their workforce and the likelihood of claims. 

Preventing High Risk Postures 

Awkward and repetitive postures commonly performed on the job – such as improper bending, twisting, and overreaching – are what we call High Risk Postures (HRPs). And while HRPs are prevalent in the workplace, especially among frontline workers performing physically demanding jobs, they are mostly preventable. 

To reduce strain and sprain injuries, employers need an ergonomic safety solution that consistently improves the way employees move on the job. Because this can be very difficult to teach in a one-time ergonomic training session, a wearable device that measures and helps to improve posture in real time can be a game changer in injury prevention.

Using sensor technology, an ergonomic wearable device is able to detect HRPs as they are occurring. The device can alert a worker when they’re bending or twisting improperly, or overextending their spine, so they can correct the risky behavior and create new habits before developing an MSD-related injury.

The Kinetic Reflex wearable device was designed to detect high risk postures among employees in the industrial workforce, who are especially prone to work-related injuries due to the repetitive and physically demanding nature of their jobs. It’s a belt-mounted wearable sensor that provides a light vibration every time an HRP is performed.

Kinetic CEO Haytham Elhawary demonstrates how the Reflex wearable device works.

Excerpted from “Keep Workers Safe and Reduce Costs: Utilizing Wearable Devices Pays Dividends in Workers’ Comp Program” 
a webinar with SullivanCurtisMonroe Insurance Services

Reducing Injury Risk 

Technologies that reduce risk and lower insurance premiums are not new. Look, for example, at embedded automotive technology designed to enhance driver safety. Advanced driver-assistance systems help keep drivers from drifting out of their lanes through a steering wheel vibration. Additionally,  automatic emergency braking systems help prevent crashes by automatically activating the brakes when a car senses a collision. These advanced driving technologies can help reduce insurance costs by qualifying drivers for discounts based on installed safety systems and reduced accident frequency.

Similarly, wearable safety tech can be leveraged in the workplace to detect and prevent specific ergonomic risks such as HRPs. By studying how an employee moves and alerting them every time a high risk posture is performed, the device creates better habits around how to move properly on the job. As workers reduce the frequency of HRPs, over time, workplace injury rates decrease.

An actuarial review of Kinetic Reflex data supported a correlation between high risk posture rates and the frequency of strains and sprains. Proven results include a 50-60% reduction in injury frequency and a 50% reduction in workers’ comp claims costs in environments where high strain & sprain injury rates are present.

By reducing the damaging effects of high risk postures, companies can reduce the risk of musculoskeletal injuries among their workforce, reduce workers’ comp claims and even improve their experience modification rating, resulting in workers’ comp premium savings.

Coming next: Part 2 – The Impact of Behavior Change. Learn how wearable devices drive long term changes in worker behavior that lead to a safer workforce.