The Evolution of Wearable Technology in Workplace Health and Safety
There is an increasingly clear global consensus for a safer industrial world enabled by technology. We’re seeing countries like Ghana pushing for an occupational safety and health bill, improved worker safety initiatives in the Middle East, and a movement to launch the first global Industrial Safety Manifesto. These are promising workplace health and safety improvements worldwide that will help address the growing rate and cost of work-related injuries. In 2020 the total cost of preventable work-related injuries reached over $163.9 billion in the US alone. 65 million work days were lost due to these injuries, almost double from previous years (National Safety Council).
Wearables will be central to driving improved industrial worker safety. Wearable technology has evolved substantially over the last five years, driven in part by the nearly ubiquitous adoption in the consumer realm. There are clear roles for wearables in reducing injury, saving costs and increasing productivity. Now, device manufacturers and pioneering industrial organisations are proving the viability of wearables for workplace health and safety.
From a technology standpoint, wearables have become smaller, smarter and easier to implement. The most reliable ones for industrial use have shifted from the wrist to the ear, where all vital signs can be measured, and physiological readings are more accurate. More sophisticated devices, like Bodytrak, provide accurate measures of parameters like heart rate and core body temperature to indicate incidents of heat stress, fatigue or injury, for example. These are monitored in real time, and users are instantly alerted about abnormalities, allowing for rapid and early intervention. Today, devices are lightweight, easy to use, comfortable to wear, and unobtrusive to day-to-day tasks, breaking down barriers to adoption.
We’re also getting closer to successfully tackling the persistent questions around wearables in the workplace, specifically data and personal privacy, and obstacles to adoption. Improvements in encryption, data privacy ethics and regulation, and technology have been reassuring for both employees and organisations.
In our experience, when employees truly understand the safety benefits of wearables in the workplace, as well as how, where and why data will be collected and used, they are more likely to want to use the technology. A recent survey on the adoption of wearables in the workplace found that 81% of employees would consider using wearables to help track risk factors at work. Over half of the respondents favoured using wearable sensors to monitor safety-related risk factors and relevant exposure metrics. These numbers are expected to rise as the characteristics of the workforce change. With a new generation of early technology adopters, employees expect more and welcome change. Companies that prioritise safety backed up by technology will do better to attract and retain talent in the long term.
We’ve been working with clients to gather feedback from their employees. We’re helping them update and enhance their existing policies and practices to accommodate wearable technology they’ve never had access to before, and ensure the seamless roll-out of the technology. And we’re providing education and onboarding for employees to help drive engagement. This is especially important among those who are more hesitant and may not initially understand the real value of the solution to benefit their health and safety.
Adopting wearables in the workplace is fundamentally about proactively and unobtrusively preventing incidents, injury and illness. But there are secondary benefits, too. There’s reduced downtime and increased productivity. Data can be anonymised and used to inform more optimal shift timetables, worker policies and health and safety strategies. Better-managed shift patterns result in happier and more productive staff and hence greater output. Associated legal, medical, administrative and other costs are significantly reduced. All of these feed the business case and the ROI on wearable technology adoption. And today’s industry pioneers are proving it.
Get in touch to let me know what you think or find out how Bodytrak can help protect and manage your employee’s safety at work.
Written by Leon Marsh, Founder and CEO of Bodytrak (17th November 2022)