The Future of Workplace Safety Technology Is Now Part Three


There’s a growing buzz in workers compensation that technology, the workplace, and the role of the worker are changing more dramatically today and at a faster pace than ever before. Along with shifting jobs and evolving workplaces come new and changing exposures to worker injuries. Questions continue to arise about the status and evolution of safety technologies.


In the
first installment of our series “The Future of Workplace Safety Technology Is Now,” we shared insights from our interviews with four workers compensation carriers in various stages of testing, introducing, and implementing safety technology. In our
second installment, NCCI interviewed six technology innovators who are actively working with workers compensation stakeholders to create and provide various types of workplace safety technologies, including:


  • Wearables

  • AI/Computer Vision

  • Internet of Things (IoT)

  • Software Applications


For this third installment, NCCI interviewed three employers that have adopted innovative safety technology including wearables and video AI/Computer Vision.

Key Insights

  • To effectively implement safety technology, an ongoing partnership between the employer, the technology provider, and the insurer is important.
  • Knowing how to interpret and use the data collected from the safety technology was a potential obstacle for at least one employer.
  • The cost of the product was not necessarily an obstacle to implementation.
  • Manufacturing and warehousing are currently the primary industry focus.
  • Employee buy-in and trust are critical for success and can be achieved through education and transparency.
  • The employers’ use of safety technologies also resulted in increased productivity and efficiencies.
  • Use of a single safety technology may not address all workplace hazards or unsafe practices but can be another tool in the toolbox for creating a culture of safety.
  • Safety technologies can be an effective tool for monitoring multiple locations remotely and in real time.

Introduction

The evolving workplace and the role of the worker are top of mind for workers compensation stakeholders. One of the rising industry concerns about the shifting workforce and workplace is the potential impact to the frequency and severity of on-the-job injuries. As part of our ongoing dialogue with workers compensation stakeholders around the country, NCCI is often asked about the status of safety technology being utilized in the workplace, such as wearable devices.

There is not one answer, but one thing is clear—the best outcome for an injury is for the injury to never have taken place. In this third article of our three-part series, we relay the perspectives gained from our separate interviews with representatives from three employers at various stages of implementing workplace safety technologies.

Employer Interview Questions and Insights

Here are some key questions from these interviews:

  • How did you hear about these safety technologies and why did you decide to implement them?
  • What were the obstacles to implementation and how did you overcome them?
  • How do you use safety technology to monitor change and what results have you seen?
  • Have these safety technologies had other impacts on your business?
  • What is your vision for the future?
  • Do you see safety technology as a game-changer?

How did you hear about these safety technologies and why did you decide to implement them?

Two of the employers interviewed learned about safety technologies from their respective workers compensation insurers. These employers first agreed to participate in pilot projects, which were funded at least partially by their insurers.

According to one employer, the shared financial commitment of their workers compensation insurer to this technology indicated there may be potential for it to be useful and/or effective. In addition, this employer shared that they would not have moved forward were it not for the partnership between the employer, insurer, and technology provider.

Another employer shared that their company tries out a different safety innovation tool or technology each year or two. This employer’s goal was to be proactive rather than reactive in addressing workplace hazards. Instead of just looking at historical loss data they wanted to prevent potential future injuries—especially catastrophic ones. As such, analyzing and acting on near misses was critical. But identifying hazards per se was just as critical. Therefore, utilizing Computer Vision—a safety technology that uses cameras to help detect workers’ potentially unsafe movements and hazards in the work environment and provides real-time warnings—fit perfectly into their company culture.

 

A third employer chose their technology based on a previous positive experience from another company. This employer noted that their primary focus at the beginning was ergonomics, but the benefits grew dramatically. They started with an existing camera system and implemented the new Computer Vision technology one site at a time, focusing first on the sites with the highest risks and determining what made the biggest impact. This employer noted that each of their seven sites took about two weeks to set up and about a month to collect enough measurable data to set a baseline for identifiable events and behaviors.

What were the obstacles to implementation and how did you overcome them?

The employers interviewed discussed some of the obstacles to implementing safety technologies, including learning how to manage and act on the data collected and address employee privacy concerns. Interestingly, the cost of the safety technology was not necessarily the biggest obstacle noted by these employers.


  • How to use the data collected

One employer that was implementing wearable devices voiced initial concerns about managing the volume of data received from them. The company has approximately 180 employees and decided to conduct a pilot project with 40 wearables for one year.

Another concern the employer had was not knowing how to interpret or use the data collected. After initial training, the employer indicated that to make the pilot program effective they would meet regularly with the technology provider and with their workers compensation insurer to review the data.

 

This practice was critical to initial success as well as subsequent growth of their program. This employer was extremely satisfied with the initial outcomes, so they expanded the program and are now utilizing 160 wearables. They shared that even the company’s executives are wearing safety devices.

Having an ongoing relationship with the technology provider also helped the employers address employee concerns. Each employer noted that their employees were skeptical at first. Employees were concerned about how the data from wearable devices would be used and whether they would “get in trouble.” However, education and transparency alleviated many of these concerns.

An open, honest employer culture is important. According to one employer, employees “buy-in” when there is transparency, management explains the “why,” and wears the device themselves. While not every employee may want to wear the device, the employers believe it was now viewed like any other personal protective equipment such as a hard hat or safety glasses.

To help with employee acceptance, an employer utilizing Computer Vision showed video clips to individual employees involved (rather than to the entire company) and used the feedback for training rather than disciplinary purposes. This employer noted that it is “important to do it in a caring manner” and video clips may be effective when they are presented the right way. In addition to the video clips, the employer focuses on having employees participate in solutions and explained that the purpose of the technology is to ensure that employees go home safely every night. This employer emphasized that employee participation in determining solutions was very important.

A third employer quickly received support from most of the company and noted it was important to get support from leadership first. This employer realized employee buy-in with two important actions:

  • Showing employees that they are valued.
  • Explaining that the company is implementing technology to help them go home safely at night.

Employees were said to have quickly accepted the technology once they saw everything that the system could do.

In the first two articles of this series, the workers compensation insurers and safety technology providers noted that the cost of the product was a potential obstacle to widespread implementation. However, two out of the three employers interviewed did not believe that cost was an important obstacle. One employer shared that if they could prevent one back strain then the technology “paid for itself.”

One employer shared that cost was the biggest obstacle to implementation, but also noted several benefits that offset those costs, including eliminating the need for a safety manager at every location. This employer also indicated that the cost of safety technology could decrease in the future due to increased volume of usage and improved system learning of individual operations.

How do you use safety technology to monitor change and what results have you seen?

A clear message from the employers interviewed was that the technology had a positive impact on safety in the workplace. They shared that they are constantly monitoring the data and feedback from the safety technologies leading to process change in certain situations.

One employer utilizing wearables in a manufacturing business said they view the data every day. They also meet monthly with experts from the technology provider and the workers compensation insurer reviews the data quarterly. The company’s supervisors were said to review their direct reports’ data on a regular basis.

The data from the wearable devices show ergonomic issues, such as the need for a lift table or tool; and body motion (push/pull injuries) so the employer can change the work process or the employee can change their process or alleviate stress on their body in other ways.

This employer shared positive results, including over 335 “good catches” (a more positive term than “near misses”) with 82% mitigated. The employer noted that their workers compensation costs were reduced by 60% from 2021–2023.

The second employer—a warehousing and logistics business with 25–30 facilities and over 500 employees around the country—uses Computer Vision to monitor multiple locations from one site, observe behaviors in real time, and adjust quickly. The employer shared that use of the technology has resulted in employee behavior changes regarding ergonomics and personal protective equipment as well as revealing problematic areas that need to be modified such as poor lifting processes.

A third employer utilizing Computer Vision in a freezer storage business noted that the technology provides “real-time data to the minute.” The company’s supervisors spend 10 minutes per day reviewing the previous day’s events and meet before each shift to discuss findings and give tips to educate everyone. A potentially severe incident will result in an immediate email alert or phone call to that site, while lower-risk misses are discussed at a leadership meeting. This employer noted that from May to December 2023 they had fewer recordable incidents than in the first four months of 2023 and the technology has “proven itself quickly.”

Have these safety technologies had other impacts on your business?

In addition to the results noted above, the three employers interviewed believe the use of safety technologies had other positive impacts on their businesses.

One employer noted there are fewer hours of lost time, fewer trip hazards, and cleaner, more efficient work areas. In general, it is a better place to work with enhanced employee morale.

A second employer, utilizing Computer Vision, shared that the cameras currently used for worker safety issues can also be utilized for improved security of the facility, such as making sure doors and gates are closed properly.

 

A third employer stated that changing employee behaviors not only increases employee safety but also improves efficiency and productivity. For example, there are fewer damaged pallets and a decrease in maintenance costs.

What is your vision for the future?

While the employers expressed excitement about the positive results from their new technology, they each shared features they would like to see in the future:

The first employer, a manufacturing company currently utilizing wearables, noted the ability to flag vibrations impacting the arms and body would be helpful. They would also like to monitor additional exposures to the body during crimping and cutting processes, which are currently not captured by wearable devices.

The second employer, a warehousing and logistics company utilizing Computer Vision, expressed interest in using this technology to evaluate overall proximity monitoring of employees which could help eliminate workplace violence by de-escalating certain situations.

The third employer, a freezer storage company also utilizing Computer Vision, is interested in automation. They mentioned robots in their freezers and automated forklifts as newer technology they would envision utilizing. But most importantly, they stated that they are keen on exploring any technology that can create a safer workplace.

Do you see safety technology as a game-changer?

As we did for our first two articles, NCCI asked the three employers if safety technology is a “game-changer.” One employer believes that they are a “100% game-changer—especially for a department of one!” A second employer found the ability to monitor a worksite 24/7 to be a game-changer for their operations.

Another employer noted that the technology has the potential to be a game-changer, but it is not there yet. They stated there are many pieces to safety, not just one thing.

Conclusion

Through our interviews with employers in various stages of implementing safety technologies, we learned that the relationship with their technology providers and workers compensation insurers is critical to success. Technology providers remain closely involved in reviewing and interpreting data obtained from their products and work together with employers to address safety concerns and process improvements. While employees may initially be reluctant to participate, employer communication, education, and transparency are imperative for alleviating these concerns. The company culture is the essential driver to buy-in and implementation.

Safety technologies are not only “another tool in the toolbox” to help foster safer workplaces for the employers interviewed and their workers, but they have also been noted as leading to increased productivity and efficiencies and better all-around work environments. That said, each interviewed employer shared a vision for the future of technology that could address unique challenges for their respective businesses.

It remains to be seen whether safety technologies are “game-changers” for workers compensation, but as one employer noted, “People who care about themselves and care about the culture are the game-changers.”

The articles in this series reflect the interviewees’ opinions on the topic. Special thanks to the employers that generously shared their thoughts: Life Line Emergency Vehicles, Verst Logistics, and Vertical Cold Storage.


​This article is provided solely as a reference tool to be used for informational purposes only. The information in this article shall not be construed or interpreted as providing legal or any other advice. Use of this article for any purpose other than as set forth herein is strictly prohibited.


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