Wearable technology can help reduce workplace injuries: Study

Research identified behavioural changes in how people work over time

When looked at from a safety point of view, there is great value to wearable technology in the workplace, found a new study released by the American Society of Safety Professionals (ASSP) Foundation.


The three-year study, which ended in December, demonstrated how to capture a worker’s safety performance and translate the data into personal fatigue levels. It’s the first step in creating a comprehensive framework that can identify research-supported interventions that protect workers from injuries caused by being tired on the job, said ASSP.


“Fatigue is a hidden danger in the workplace, but now we’ve tackled the measurement and modelling of fatigue through wearable sensors, incorporating big data analytics and safety engineering,” said the study’s lead researcher, Lora Cavuoto from the University at Buffalo. “Information is power, so knowing when, where and how fatigue impacts worker safety is critical. You can’t identify solutions until you pinpoint the problems.”


The study involved 25 participants wearing non-obtrusive wrist, hip and ankle sensors while completing three tasks commonly performed by manufacturing workers — assembly, stocking and remaining in a static or flexed position. Each person worked in three-hour increments. The study demonstrated that meaningful safety data can be collected by an employer in a cost-effective manner without interfering with a worker’s daily routine.


“By setting parameters, we identified behavioural changes in how people conduct work over time,” Cavuoto said. “For example, we saw how workers performed the same task in the first hour as compared to the third hour when fatigue became a factor. Wearable technology can uncover precursors to larger problems and help establish safety interventions that may call for scheduled breaks, posture adjustments or vitamin supplements that help the body.”


According to the National Safety Council, fatigue costs employers in the United States more than $130 billion a year in health-related lost productivity. In addition, more than 70 million Americans suffer from a sleep disorder. A typical U.S. company with 1,000 employees can expect to lose more than $1 million each year to fatigue.