In 2010, OSHA presented its landmark ergonomics program standard to the U.S. Senate. After 10 years of study, it was clear: Workplace musculoskeletal disorders cost employers dearly. The research showed $1 out of every $3 spent on workers’ compensation was due to insufficient ergonomic protection.1
Twelve years later, the figures have not improved. It’s estimated that employers pay nearly $1 billion a week for direct workers’ compensation costs. Nine out of the top 10 preventable injuries and absences are linked to MSDs and ergonomic practices.
This explains why the industrial IoT (Internet of Things) market is on track to be worth $739 billion by 2025.2 From wearables such as Modjoul’s ergo belt to 3D motion capture systems like TuMeke Ergonomics, these devices and systems are showing a double-digit reduction in ergonomic risk – and the costly claims that go with them.
We sat down with three of The Hartford’s ergonomic specialists to talk industrial IoT innovation and the impact it has on industrial ergonomics and risk management.
IoT Devices Are Minimizing the Hurdles of on-Site Monitoring
Before the advent of wearables and 3D motion capture technology, ergonomic specialists would spend hours on-site – taking videos, measuring and putting pen to paper. Now, the work can be done in seconds. “Historically, we’d have to be onsite to measure angles and distance and reaches, and [IoT] software is helping us bridge that gap. We’re not always having to send someone on site,” says Michael White, a senior ergonomic consultant at The Hartford. “Since the pandemic, there’s been a huge push to do everything virtually and it’s accelerated the use of IoT devices. Fortunately (for the industry) and unfortunately because it was due to COVID.”
Darren Chasteen, head of the ergonomic consulting practice at The Hartford, explains that “the pandemic forced the industry to expand beyond on-site. With these devices, we are able to be more efficient in how we're working with our clients.” Even post-pandemic, the team anticipates virtual risk assessment being the new normal given the flexibility and efficiency of data-backed wearables and 3D motion technology.
IoT Devices Can Enhance Proactive Risk Management
It’s not enough for an employer to think ‘no claims = we are safe.’ As The Hartford’s senior ergonomics consultant Vincent Cotto points out: You may have just been lucky. And luck should have no place on your manufacturing floor. “Proactive ergonomics is obviously what we preach,” he says. “It's cheaper and more efficient to do. If you’re building a workspace, redesigning one or implementing a new process, design it right the first time rather than finding out there’s a problem in the back end with multiple claims and then trying to implement a protocol.”
IoT Devices May Help Retain Workers – and Keep Them Healthy
Even as manufacturers look to automate parts of their production with robots, human laborers are still needed. And those humans are becoming harder to hire. Blame supply chain issues and ensuing on-and-off again layoffs, as well as the Great Resignation. However, on-the-job injuries are a perpetual part of the equation, too. “Finding labor and keeping labor are reoccurring themes. It continues to be a problem,” Cotto says. With 3D motion technology, “at least we can eliminate risks for your workforce so you don’t need to worry about headcount.”
White points out that best practices are important, but an aging workforce is also a concern. These workers experience a “decrease in flexibility, decreased mobility, a decrease in strength capacity and then you may have non work-related comorbidities. When somebody like this gets hurt, they are hurt more and out longer and it's tougher to get them back.” White echo’s Cotto’s earlier statement: Prevention is always better than a post-claim intervention.
IoT Devices Are Not a Substitute for Proper PPE
You’re monitoring every bend, pull, push and torque. You’re good, right? Wrong. “It’s not armor,” Cotto says. “It doesn’t prevent the hazard by any means. It pinpoints where the hazard might be. It helps us identify where we should look, and then we can develop an engineering control or elimination of the hazard.” As exciting and useful as this world of tech is, there is no replacement for a face shield, cut-resistant gloves or other required PPE for the job. PPE education and training is as important as ever to avoid an invincibility complex with the use of smart ergonomics.
IoT Devices Provide Powerful Data if You Know How to Use It
Smart ergonomics offers robust data, and lots of it. But employers should know: IoT devices do not offer solutions. “You can measure a lot of things, but if you don't know how those measures are trending or how they are affecting your organization or your bottom line, then what?” White asks. That’s where a comprehensive industrial ergonomic program is key. “We come in and help you with both the collection of data and the analysis of it. We also like to use numbers and loss analysis and claims data, too.” Adding an automation, redesigning a work area – these can cost thousands (if not millions) of dollars and “not be expensed on a whim,” White says. Industrial ergonomics and the use of IoT devices is about the long game. After all, the stats don’t lie: One way or another, employers will pay for the cost of ergonomics.
1 Statement Of Charles N. Jeffress, Assistant Secretary For Occupational Safety And Health, U.S. Department Of Labor Before the Subcommittee On Employment, Safety, And Training of The Senate Health, Education, Labor And Pensions Committee, April 27, 2000
2 Industrial IoT Market Research Report, Market Data Forecast, April 2021
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