Reducing lost time injuries through AI sensors
A retail warehouse operation in the UK, Wincanton, has identified musculoskeletal activity as the fourth highest hazard within its operation. The warehouse is primarily responsible for the pick, pack, and dispatch of household, and other ‘awkward’ products directly to the end customer — 20% of all the products are heavier than 15 kg. These products also comprise 19% of the lifts that are performed by workers across the operation.
As part of its safety processes, Wincanton wanted to provide movement training to workers on the job, enabling them to learn how they were moving while working (as opposed to simply in a classroom setting). The company needed to find a solution that was personal and allowed workers to oversee their own safety.
There was also a significant need for formalised continual checking of manual handling safety compliance. It needed to:
- Be scalable.
- Give workers the individual training needed to move safely on the job.
- Incite permanent behavioural change.
- Provide formalised monitoring, coaching and support to assess compliance with manual handling training for new starters; workers returning after an incident or injury; workers recommencing work after a performance management issue related to manual handling compliance; and all workers at random points across the year.
Wincanton utilised the SoterCoach solution, which consists of a small clip-on sensor that the worker can affix to their hi-vis vest. These devices provide feedback and data to the worker, and an online management dashboard that trainers, coaches and line managers at Wincanton used to appraise the workers’ technique.
The sensor captures and alerts workers to any high-risk spine movements via audible and haptic feedback, including lumbar flexion, rotation, static postures, repetitive movements and any high intensity movements. All data is fed back to a communal tablet in the charging docking hub, where workers can view their own personal results.
The behavioural change aspect of the sensors’ real-time biofeedback encouraged each worker to internally learn new and correct movement patterns, altering neuromuscular pathways and resulting in permanent movement change.
In fact, using the wearables resulted in 250 days without a lost time injury, with benefits including:
- a reduction in the manual handling risk to Wincanton workers across the operation;
- a reduction in the cost of musculoskeletal injury to the business;
- the pioneering of a ‘safety first’ culture protecting staff when they are at work;
- a reduction in downtime for both staff and management.
Wincanton deployed a soft launch approach to the implementation, which resulted in high engagement. A group of workers and safety professionals across the operation were chosen to introduce the technology to a wider audience. This allowed them to speak from a position of experience to colleagues about how it worked, the information they would receive and how it had personally helped them across the two weeks.
Typical worker concerns and challenges when introducing technology and devices included:
- management using them as a GPS tracker to see where they were onsite;
- being tracked for performance management;
- use of the data to manage those not improving their results.
To overcome this, Wincanton worked with Soter to clearly understand the sensors and eliminated the use of words like “tracker” or “monitoring” to remove any uncertainty. The company used information presentations from Soter to explain what applications the technology contained and how the devices were there to support the workers, giving them information and coaching on how to move safely. They used examples and compared the devices to a Fitbit or Apple Watch that would give them not only data on how they are moving, but teach them to move correctly and stay safe. Workers were unanimous in how easy it was to use and how straightforward and unobtrusive the devices were.
“We have been really pleased and surprised to find colleagues taking it to heart and doing their best to reduce the vibration and haptic feedback alerts that increase awareness of their unsafe movement postures,” said Mark Douglas, Continuous Improvement and Projects Manager at Wincanton.
“Their considerations have been along the lines of ‘I can choose to ignore the warnings, but they are there to give me information to help keep me safe so why would I?’ Bringing this technology into our teams has empowered our workers to tell us about their safety.”
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