With examples ranging from 5G connected hardhats to augmented reality (AR) headsets, wearable technologies are on the rise in industry. According to market research firm MarketsAndMarkets, the global industrial wearable market is expected to grow from $3.79 billion in 2019 to $8.4 billion by 2027. But wearable technologies can be used for more than simply providing AR-enabled remote assistance. Another rapidly expanding application is the use of wearables that provide data pertaining to the postures and movement patterns of workers to improve ergonomics in industrial settings and reduce the likelihood of employee injuries.
According to ergonomics consultants at financial services provider The Hartford, employers pay an aggregate of nearly $1 billion per week in workers' compensation costs. Moreover, nine out of the top 10 most common preventable injuries are linked to musculoskeletal disorders that can be corrected via improved ergonomic practices.
As a result, devices such as smart belts that can be worn around a worker's waist to collect data pertaining to motion, posture, location, and other environmental cues are paving the way for a new approach to risk management.
Based on our coverage of industrial wearables, Automation World sees five key benefits users should be aware of to implement them most effectively.
Wearable devices streamline on-site monitoring: Without the use of a wearable device capable of capturing on-site data in real time, an ergonomic risk assessment would require specialists to spend long periods of time visiting a location, taking measurements, and performing manual calculations. Connected wearables can transmit relevant data gathered in the course of actual work processes and deliver them to a dashboard or other system for analysis. As a result, not only is the data gathered more accurate, but costs and labor hours can be saved.
Wearable devices enable proactive risk management: According to The Hartford's ergonomic consultants, employers should not rest easy because they have no pre-existing worker compensation claims. If a problem does arise, the company could face multiple claims all at once. To avoid this, management should seek to continuously monitor conditions and implement new processes whenever a potential issue arises. Smart wearables make this possible.
Wearable devices can keep workers healthier and improve retention rates: With labor shortages abounding in industry, retaining as many current employees as possible is a priority. While the skills gap may be responsible for the overall labor shortage, employee injuries account for a large share of retention issues. In addition, as the current workforce ages, decreases in flexibility, mobility, and strength may make injuries more likely. Therefore, technologies such as smart wearables that can prevent injuries before they occur can improve an employer's bottom line.
Wearable devices are not a substitute for other personal protective equipment (PPE): Even though wearables allow companies to monitor employee movements and spot the occurrence of high-risk postures as they occur, that does not mean that other hazard prevention measures can be eliminated. While wearable technologies can help identify where ergonomic improvements need to be made, they cannot replace face shields, cut-resistant gloves, and other commonly used PPE. Moreover, traditional workplace safety education and training should continue.
Data gathered by wearable devices requires analysis to produce actionable insights: While wearable devices are a rich source of data, they don’t always direct end users on how to take corrective actions. While employers can use the data from wearables to measure various metrics, they also need to contextualize that information and determine how it is affecting their organization's bottom line. Because of this, it's important to implement a comprehensive industrial ergonomics program once smart wearables have been deployed.