Safety Wearables: Tracking Concerns, Union Buy-in & the Science Behind the Algorithms

Soter Analytics
By Toni-Louise Gianatti
Friday, 12 August, 2022


Do the benefits of using wearable safety technology for preventing manual handling injuries in the workplace outweigh the associated risks?

Absolutely.

The insecurities once felt about employee tracking and using wearables for safety measures in the workplace has been quelled over time. The practicality and safety benefits of the objective insight along with the positive worker engagement generates invaluable safety opportunities that are undeniably outweighing the associated risks.

In February this year, the journal of Technology in Society published a study showing the acceptance levels of wearable technologies in the workspace. 82% of workers out of 871 employees from European and Brazilian companies within various industrial sectors approve of using wearable sensors to improve their safety.

The study observed that in general, to accept any given technology, workers feel it is important to be informed about the wearable device proposal with the only concern being about the privacy of the collected data.

Soter Analytics has been supplying safety wearables to organisations globally since before they were thought to be a workplace possibility and has navigated and successfully overcome multiple union and employee acceptance barriers.

Matthew Hart, CEO and Founder of Soter Analytics explains, “With the fast pace that safety technology advances, it is understandable that unions are sceptical about the suggested use of these products. One primary concern is that organisations could use the devices to spy on workers in terms of performance or use geolocation data as proof against employees. Another concern is the issue of data collection security and privacy.”

There are several ways to gain buy-in and one of the main points is knowing the product well before approaching the unions or your workers.

“The general acceptance and union buy-in arises from the understanding that wearable technology is not aimed at providing new methods for Digital Taylorism of measuring workers’ performance. The focus is on the invaluable personal safety measurements and data insights they provide. Once unions understand that the sensors provide workers agency over engaging with their own learning, and have the choice to prioritise access to their own data for educational purposes, the concerns are dramatically reduced.”

It is always good practice to involve the union and workers in the decision-making process and be receptive to any concerns. Be aware of and understand exactly what data is being collected and ensure only relevant data is accumulated.

Soter Analytics works with their customers to come up with ways to mitigate the risks and concerns as much as possible by: -

  • Permanently removing GPS or geolocation
  • Allowing only aggregated or anonymized data to be available to management
  • Allowing workers to see all their own data and have access to it regularly
  • Supplying simplified materials to assist with communicating the benefits to workers
  • Guiding project leaders on best practices for deployment to avoid any pushbacks

Is the data being collected safe?

In Australia, when using any technology products that collect data, ensure the company privacy policy is in line with the Privacy Act 1988 and the Australian Privacy Principles.

These Australian Privacy Principles are principle-based law, which means organisations have the flexibility and agency to adapt the principles to meet their business model and personal information handling practices. As such, it is worth looking over a vendor’s Data Privacy Policy covering their legal obligations, what the company deems as ‘personal information’, how they secure it and importantly that it is written in layman’s terms, so it is possible to distribute to workers and unions.

Some areas to look out for include: -

  • Make sure the product has been designed and manufactured by engineers
  • Request detailed proof that the engineers are trained in data security and have addressed the security concerns with the principle of ‘reasonable security’
  • Check that encryption measures have been included
  • Ensure there is a possibility of regular updates and that they are conducted frequently to reduce any possible security threats

The algorithm solving diversification in safety

Existing manual handling standards are based on statistical averages and anthropometric data which do not withstand the immense population variety observed today. The algorithms developed at Soter Analytics provide a solution to this issue, challenging standards and updating outdated ergonomic measurements.

The risk thresholds of the Soter technology have been built using international standard guidelines, including but not limited to the National Institute of Safety & Health (NIOSH) lifting equation, Washington Industrial Safety and Health Act calculator, Rapid Upper Limb Assessment (RULA), Rapid Entire Body Assessment (REBA).

Backed by these international standards, Soter Analytics has developed and designed an algorithm like no other on the market. It relies on a neural network trained on the actual effort required by the person to make the movement.

They had hundreds of people (more women than men) make several movements moving objects, while wearing the sensor. Medical Doctor & Physiotherapist on the team, Dr. Anastasia Vasina, labelled each movement. Capturing more than 10,000 movements, the data science team extrapolated these to create a neural network that can now predict the intensity of a movement for an individual person wearing a sensor.

Hazard identification is not an easy process. Hazardous behaviour varies from person to person, and the number of potential hazards depend on the task and working conditions. In the case of a repetitive and highly variative job it is hard to objectively perform risk assessments. It requires significant time and observation and analysing the data. Moreover, data received for one worker can’t be scaled to all the workers due to individual differences in behaviour and movement patterns.

This algorithm does not care about the weight of the object, it does not care if you are male or female, it cares only about measuring how intense the movement is for the person.

Using wearable technologies has opened a new era in hazard identification, enabling assessment of the task via automatizing the use of standard observational tools, they monitor the worker’s “at risk” movement patterns and safety, generating more objective and actionable data in one day than what a large team of ergonomists would possibly gather over weeks.

The use of technology, its collaboration with existing processes and yielding clever data driven techniques is an update on outdated and inaccurate ergonomic assessments. Combined with a consistent and engaging approach to manual handling without the loss of time to a classroom, allows on-site ergonomists to deploy their time to solving problems rather than trying to find them, increasing the safety of workers.

As Industry 4.0 merges with 5.0 and related laws are continually evolving, when deciding to deploy any safety technology, it is important for the discussion to include everyone in the organisation. Engage safety and health teams, human resources, legal groups, innovation teams, operational management and understand the product well. Once these discussions have taken place, involve workers in the decision and seek their feedback. This will bring to light all possible setbacks before engaging, from data collection issues to worker acceptance, and help to address any gaps or worker concerns that management may have missed.

Case Studies

The first longitudinal outcome data of impact of the wearable technology solutions built by Soter for musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) was announced in early 2019 by Travis Perkins in the UK and stated a 55% drop in musculoskeletal injuries. Since then, multiple organizations have reduced their risk of injury including a large retail leading supply chain partner in the UK, Wincanton, achieving more than 250 days of no lost time injuries since deploying the wearables a year ago. More case studies can be found here.

Soter Analytics is a global ergonomic technology company that builds and develops wearable solutions, AI-driven coaching programs, and sensor free assessment tools for worker safety. Drawing from over 5 years of user experience, their solutions encompass proactive injury prevention, improving worker retention, engagement, and productivity, with all parameters and thresholds backed by international standards for musculoskeletal safety in the workplace.

Learn more here or connect with Soter on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and the Soter Newsletter at www.soteranalytics.com.

Image credit: Soter Analytics

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