Engaging the workforce with safety wearables: key considerations

Soter Analytics

Thursday, 18 April, 2024

Engaging the workforce with safety wearables: key considerations

The success of safety wearables lies not just in their objective data, but in how they engage workers in the safety conversation. The rollout of safety wearables across an organisation should begin with focusing on high-risk areas and involving workers in the testing and feedback process, writes TONI-LOUISE GIANATTI, Head of Communications at Soter Analytics.

Implementing ergonomic devices

Ergonomic wearable devices, such as ones deployed in companies like Endeavour Energy, BSS Industrial and St John of God Subiaco Hospital, offer real-time feedback on posture and movement. They enable workers to understand and adjust their behaviours in real time, fostering a more intuitive grasp of ergonomic principles and serve as both a preventive measure and a tool for fostering a culture of safety, leading to significant reductions in injury risk.

Data plays a crucial role here — by demonstrating the positive impact on safety and injury reduction, as seen in companies like Advics and Wincanton in the UK, organisations can build a compelling case for wider adoption. On the other side of the world, in a busy warehouse in the UK, a receiver with a history of back issues confronted his pain with the aid of wearable technology. The device he wore provided instant feedback on his posture and movements, revealing the detrimental patterns contributing to his discomfort. This awareness was pivotal, prompting him to utilise the newly introduced staging tables more consistently. The feedback mechanism of the wearable device, tailored to his needs, served as a constant, personalised coach, guiding safer practices and highlighting the importance of sustained behavioural changes.

Engaging workers through training, sharing success stories and transparently discussing the benefits and functionalities of the technology are key to fostering a positive and receptive safety culture.

A UFA case study

Despite her dedication, Sarah found herself battling fatigue and discomfort. Struggling with the physical demands of retrieving items from high shelves, exacerbated by the constant alerts from an ergonomic wearable device on her upper arm, she approached management.

Sarah is a dedicated associate of United Farmers of Alberta (UFA) — one of Canada’s largest farm and ranch supply operations. As a tenured employee, she navigates the aisles with skill and precision. Despite her expertise, the risk of musculoskeletal injuries lurks in every heavy lift and awkward reach. However, this reality shifted with the introduction of wearable safety technology — turning a moment of potential injury into prevention and empowerment.

Recognising the issue, management took a proactive approach, engaging directly with Sarah to understand her challenges and feedback. During this dialogue, she expressed her frustrations with the device’s constant beeping, a stark reminder of the ergonomic risks her daily tasks entailed. Acknowledging her fatigue and the device’s feedback along with her unique data profile generated by the device, management sought a solution that would address both the immediate ergonomic risks and the worker’s concerns.

The collaborative effort between management and Sarah led to the introduction of a smaller platform, a simple yet effective ergonomic adjustment. This platform was designed to elevate her to a more suitable height for her tasks, thereby reducing the need for overreaching and aligning her posture more naturally. This adjustment was a direct response to both the objective data gathered by the wearable device and the worker’s subjective experience of her workday.

At UFA, wearable technology encouraged subjective input from workers, valuing their firsthand experience and suggestions for making tasks safer. This collaborative approach leverages the unique perspectives of workers, merging subjective insights with objective data to craft more effective, personalised safety interventions. This collaboration cultivates a culture of mutual respect, ultimately leading to healthier, safer and more productive work environments.

Achieving success with wearables

Ultimately, the pathway to success is clear and simple. Reflect on a straightforward question: What would convince you to willingly embrace an ergonomic safety device in your workplace? The answer lies in the visible and tangible benefits that these devices offer to individual health and safety. When workers can see and understand how such technology directly enhances their wellbeing and mitigates risks, they naturally accept and are eager to adopt these devices. It is this personal connection to the benefits — this recognition of how safety innovations can make their workday safer and more comfortable — that inspires workers to wholeheartedly embrace ergonomic safety devices.

Image credit: iStock.com/skynesher

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