Wearable Technology and Workplace Safety

Posted on Friday, April 19th, 2019 at 3:10 pm    

New technology is helping workers avoid work-related injuries in many ways. Companies should always be on the lookout for ways to improve worker safety. They should understand and follow the latest guidelines and regulations from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). They should keep current with latest safety standards.

Businesses should know that providing workers with the best tools possible, the best equipment possible, and the best education possible can help reduce how often work injuries occur. The best way to avoid a work injury claim is to avoid the accident in the first place. When accidents at work do happen, workers should speak with experienced workers’ compensation lawyers to get the best advice possible.

The positives

Most new technology has some computer component and some data component. The wearable technology gathers the data by reading relevant responses from the worker who wears the technology. This new type of technology is often good at measuring things such as fatigue, work-related stress, ergonomic issues, proximity to danger, and other factors.

The overall goal of the technology is two-fold. The first is to improve the safety for the individual worker. The second is to improve the safety of the whole workplace organization.

According to Businessinsurance.com, these are some example of the desired benefits of wearable technology:

  • “Caterpillar Inc. demonstrated a solution it created to reduce accidents involving collisions between heavy machinery and construction personnel. Using a small beacon that fits inside a hardhat and a receiver mounted in the cab of a vehicle or machine, the solution can detect when a worker is dangerously close to the equipment and alert the driver with an alarm.”
  • Two analysts explained how new technology could be used in construction sites, one of the leading industry sectors for workplace accident claims. The new technology would give supervisors the ability to warn workers, through visual and audible alarms to the device they’re wearing – to stay away from certain unsafe areas. The technology was “a worker positioning system using wireless beacons placed around the room and safety vests outfitted with transmitters that allowed software to track their movements throughout the aisles and among audience members in real time.”
  • The analysts touted other wearable devices that could alert supervisors to accidents. Quicker response times could prevent harm to other workers and help the injured worker get more timely help. Workers could be notified when an evacuation of a dangerous site was necessary.

Wearable technology benefits typically, according to the BusinessInsruance.com article, the following three goals:

  • Collect data about the worker on certain activities such as bending and then comparing it to a benchmark or threshold. The hard part is determining the benchmarks and thresholds.
  • Change the worker’s individual behavior. Much of the analysis of this type of benefit has shown that it doesn’t help workers that much. In fact, in one study at the University of Pittsburgh, PA, an experiment was done to determine if wearable devices that monitored diet and physical activity helped or hurt with weight loss. The study actually found that the people who didn’t wear the devices lost more weight than those with the devices. The analysts in the article concluded that behavior is affected more by “organizational culture and systems that try to reinforce desired behaviors and discourage deviations.
  • Make changes to organizational behavior, “such as changing workflows or processes to make work safer or more efficient.”

The negatives

There are concerns with wearable technology. Most wearable technology focuses on collecting data about a worker’s performance. Some of the concerns raised by those who oppose these technologies include:

  • A lack of privacy. The collection of large amounts of data can affect the psyche and well-being of the workers. The information gathered may be used against the worker in various ways such as in the evaluation of the worker’s job performance. The worker’s privacy is impacted.
  • An improper focus. Focusing on the data often means missing many other parts of job performance. Doing a job well depends on experience, ambition, creativity, imagination, an ability to be a team player, and many other factors. Focusing on just physical and emotional responses can miss some of these crucial factors. Often, there are much better, more efficient, and more creative ways to improve worker safety and worker job performance.
  • Digital breaches. Some transfer of information might violate various laws such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) which regulates access to medical health records.
  • A waste of time. All of the data collection isn’t worth the time to collect it if there’s no ability in the technology to assess and evaluate the data.

Wearable technologies should focus on things that can’t normally be evaluated by the human eye or human experience. How much bending a worker is doing can usually be assessed by just looking at the worker. Technology can be useful, for example, in determining (through a glove with sensors) how much “force a worker uses” while gripping.

General guidelines

Education matters. Workers should be told more than just how to use the technology. They should understand how the technology is being used to make for a safer and better work environment.

Employers tend to like wearable devices because the devices may help reduce their premiums while also helping to avoid workplace accidents. Employees may like them if they really help keep them safer.

At the Virginia Law office and North Carolina office of lawyer Joe Miller Esq., we’ve helped thousands of injured workers get justice. We fight to get employees all the benefits they deserve including payment of all their medical bills and their lost wages. We understand that holding employers accountable for workplace injuries is one way to force employers to focus more on workplace safety. For help with your Virginia or North Carolina workers’ compensation claim, call attorney Joe Miller at 1-(888) 667-8295 or complete my contact form to schedule a free appointment. Initial consultations are free.