Wearable technology and how it's revolutionizing the workers' comp space

Smartphone-sized wearables get safety advice in real time

Wearable technology and how it's revolutionizing the workers' comp space

Workers Comp

By Desmond Devoy

This article was produced in partnership with AmTrust.

Desmond Devoy, of Insurance Business America, sat down with Woody Dwyer, director of loss control at AmTrust Financial Services, about the emerging technology that can make workplaces safer and pre-emptively reduce workers’ compensation claims.

Wearable technology the size of a cell phone and smaller can help prevent workers’ compensation claims before they become an issue by providing real-time insight.

A recent webinar by AmTrust Financial Services – available now on demand - helped brokers learn more about the technology being developed, and currently available, that can help their clients keep employees safe, and lessen workers’ comp interactions.

“There’s a wearable sensor that is like the size of a smartphone that you wear,” explained Woody Dwyer (pictured), director of loss control with AmTrust. It sits in a harness or on your belt and “measures a number of things from ergonomic risk factors to ambient temperature to noise.”

For the companies that utilize these wearable sensors, there will need to be accommodations made – such as possibly boosting the power of Wi-Fi on site.

AmTrust even has a new service that allows customers to shoot a video of an ergonomic concern, say, a worker loading a trolley. The customer then loads the video, which can be up to four minutes long, through a secure server to the company.

“I can have a conversation with that customer about the risks and solutions this afternoon,” after he watches the video, said Dwyer.

This video system is in the soft launch phase at the moment and will have a big debut at the National Ergonomics Conference in November.

A look down wearable memory lane

Technology has developed rapidly over the last 10 years. In fact, Dwyer got a laugh during a recent presentation at the University of Connecticut where he showed a class the NSC 1994 ergonomic lifting calculator.

“It was a slide rule,” he noted. “They looked at me like I had 10 heads.”

Now, these wearables can include an accelerometer, gyroscope, and video capabilities. They can also measure ambient light, air quality, air pressure, humidity and the heat temperature index. Dwyer can put 100 wearables on employees and collect data throughout the entire day.

“At the end of the day, when they put the device back into the holding charger, the data gets uploaded into the cloud and I can have a risk profile that I can review with you today,” Dwyer said. “It allows capacity in this field.”

Other wearable technology includes sophisticated sensors that measure electromyography, which Dwyer likens to “an EKG for your muscles,” specifically your back and shoulder muscles, which can get synced to a video and provide a close-up risk profile. And the field is also expanding into artificial intelligence (AI) and exoskeletons.

“The AI system is overlaid on to a person, for example, stacking a handcart, which we see people do every day,” said Dwyer. As the worker’s body moves, their movements are recorded and analyzed by the AI tools, and then a job score and a body part score are assigned. 

AmTrust works with TuMeke Ergonomics, a California firm, which developed this ergonomics AI technology that powers these evaluations. This technology has been around for about five years, and over the past year AmTrust has tested the video technology with customers and has received good feedback.

“You don’t need an app or to download anything,” he stressed. “We send you a link to a secure file transfer that will send that video to me securely. I like the immediacy of it.”

That immediacy allows for changes to be made in real-time to not only how the worker is carrying out their tasks, but also how the job itself is designed, to make the work safer.

For workers who are injured, the data can be useful to see how they can most safely transition back to full-time work. An injured shoulder may preclude some jobs, but other jobs on-site may not require any shoulder work, for example.

Here come the exoskeletons

The newest emerging technology are exoskeletons which are still in development.

“This has rapidly grown over the last six years,” said Dwyer.

In 2016, he featured a military exoskeleton at a safety symposium, to demonstrate how they could potentially be used for civilian use.

“These are devices that you wear to assist you with movement,” he said. “So, it’s wearable, but it doesn’t have to be electronic. It might be through hydraulics or elastics.”

He discussed how exoskeletons may help in other areas and gave the example of someone who may have suffered a stroke. An exoskeleton may help that patient move during treatment.

“But in the workplace, if you’re reaching above your head every day, an exoskeleton will help you move your arms up and reduce the effort and risk,” he explained.

Dwyer himself is part of the ASTM F48 standards group that is developing guidance for exoskeletons as big companies like Boeing and Toyota become early adopters.

There’s also the human factor as well as, specifically, getting buy-in from employees.

“There is a potential fear of Big Brother with these devices,” Dwyer said. But with the right messaging, employees can be brought on board to know that they are not being used to monitor if a worker ducks out for a smoke break. Rather, “they’re really focused on ergonomic risk.”

Management also needs the mindset that the data collected identifying a problem will be acted upon.

With these wearable technologies, “we’re starting to see more and more people ask about it. And then there are larger corporations that are investing in it. So right now, we are at the track and observe phase. AmTrust is one of the largest carriers continuing to evaluate it.”

To find out more about wearable technologies and their impact on the insurance industry, watch the full webinar – available on demand – now.

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