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Wearable Tech Puts Ergonomic Efficiencies within Reach

Sept. 1, 2023
By Steven Shaffer, Senior Risk Improvement Specialist at EMC Insurance Companies

In an industry with heavy machinery, automation, potentially hazardous chemicals and more, it may be surprising to learn that one of the biggest loss drivers in manufacturing is poor ergonomics. Ergonomic injuries generally occur when tasks are repetitive, or if they require excessive lifting or awkward postures. These small inefficiencies add up to create a significant impact for manufacturing companies — as nearly $1.2 billion is paid out each week in the United States for workers’ compensation claims.

Luckily, there are simple ways to address ergonomics issues on the factory floor and gain new insights into worker behavior.

Innovation in ergonomics

New technology makes this data collection easier. Instead of working with an ergonomist to sit and watch a worker in order to gather information, we can leverage wearable measurement devices and artificial intelligence (AI) to monitor and gather data. These wearable devices can range from smart phones and smart watches to exoskeletons and sensor-equipped personal protective equipment (PPE).

These high-tech devices are always on, meaning the technology can work around-the-clock to learn how a task is performed and draw on previously collected ergonomic data to help assess a task. If a task is being performed in an unsafe manner, the device can note that instance and generate an alert to the worker or supervisor.

This information can then be leveraged to prevent injuries. It is impossible to watch everyone all the time to ensure workers remain safe. With machine learning, it is possible to identify problem areas that may not be readily apparent. For example, an employee might not take time to record a near-miss, but a machine will note and record those close calls every time.

Once a problem area is identified, you can sort out what is going on and get to the root cause. Is there a slip/trip hazard in the area that has gone unnoticed or ignored? Is the lighting bad? Have bad habits crept into lifting techniques? Does an unrecognized repetitive task exist? Finding and solving these issues can significantly increase overall safety. 

Tap into tech for loss control

New technologies also provide easy-to-access and effective training methods. Instead of having employees sit through a full-day ergonomics class, a series of 3-minute YouTube videos can provide the same information in a more easily managed time frame.

Prioritizing better ergonomic practices is critical for improving overall safety and reducing one of the greatest loss drivers for manufacturing. While improved ergonomics can reduce employee injuries, absences, and claims, it can also increase efficiency, productivity, employee morale and retention.

As a full-range commercial insurance provider for manufacturers, EMC Insurance Companies knows how to capture, leverage and implement ergonomics data to better your business outcomes.

For more information on improving your ergonomics safety, reach out to your local EMC representative, visit our Loss Control website at https://www.emcins.com/losscontrol/ or email us at [email protected].

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