Emerging technologies can be used to identify, monitor, quantify and mitigate ergonomic risk factors. With the wearables market growing rapidly, organizations have been presented with new ways to engage technology in musculoskeletal disorder prevention. For example, well-known bio-sensors, like the Apple Watch and Fitbit, can measure heart rate, blood oxygen levels and temperature, which can be vital in monitoring an employee’s fitness for labor-heavy jobs.
“Advances in sensor accuracy, sensitivity, cost, battery power and connectivity have improved, and there have been significant advances in this technology, but validation continues to be the area of opportunity,” says Steve Simon, Senior Risk Control Manager at Safety National. “Employee buy-in is key, and as more workforces accept the use of this technology, the data provided by these devices will help improve job risk evaluations to uncover safety and ergonomic opportunities.”
Below are a few types of these devices that can offer additional benefits, including cost reduction and higher employee productivity.
Inertial Measurement Unit Sensors (IMUs)
IMUs use machine learning algorithms to compute walking steps, energy expenditure, sleep patterns, joint movement and falls. Data provided by these devices can be extremely helpful in covering gaps in claims data, where high-risk ergonomic areas are not covered. The data can provide valuable information that can enhance employee wellness.
Physiological Sensors & Biosensors
Biosensors and physiological sensors include optical sensors or photoplethysmography (PPG) to measure blood pressure or record an electrocardiogram (EKG). In addition to well-known devices, like the Apple Watch, this type of sensor includes advanced technologies that were once only used in the medical field but are now being used to measure risks in high-risk jobs and critical activities in the workplace, including electromyography (EMG), used to record the electrical activity produced by skeletal muscles. If using these devices, it is best to work with a medical provider network or health practitioner, since running a pilot program can involve more strategizing to make sure these devices are used appropriately.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) Computer Vision
AI continues to be used across a wide array of industries because it provides real-world operational opportunities. Data, in the form of motion capture from these devices, is typically uploaded into a video format and then used to identify risk factors. Kinetica Labs, for example, uses AI to read body movements and then sends an ergonomics expert to your workplace to identify patterns and make adjustments.
These sensors use electrodermal activity (EDA) that measure the electrical conductivity of the skin or galvanic skin response (GSR), which measures changes in sweat gland activity. These sensors can help detect hydration levels, heat stress and pain, which can be early indicators of heat exhaustion, particularly in outdoor workforces. These can play a critical role during the summer months when workforces are prone to long, hotter days on a job site.
Typically powered by a system of electric motors, exosuits (or exoskeletons), have shown some positive results in specific industries to reduce back and shoulder muscle activities. While this device is typically an expensive option, non-automated, soft exosuits can assist workers with muscle weakness, targeting only a portion of the body at a fraction of the cost of a standard exosuit.