3 Ways IoT Can Make Industrial Workplaces Safer

IoT is revolutionizing how businesses manufacture, store and ship their products.

Connected devices are transforming production floors and warehouses into digitized spaces that can be measured, analyzed and optimized at unprecedented speed. Eager to take advantage of this emerging technology, manufacturers around the globe are expected to invest as much as $398 billion annually in IoT by 2026.

We are, however, yet to see the large-scale application of this technology to protect human workers.

Amid the digitization of Industry 4.0, companies can’t afford to take their human workforce for granted. Here are three ways IoT can be used to improve workplace safety—and why that’s critical for long-term retention and recruitment.

  1. Wearable devices deliver real-time safety feedback

It’s no secret that the repeated, hand-intensive movements common among floor workers can lead to costly injuries. Injuries resulting from repetitive tasks cost US businesses more than $2 billion per year. An employer can end up shelling out $65,000 in direct and indirect costs for a single case of carpal tunnel.

Traditionally, businesses have relied on job site analyses, ergonomic studies and other time-consuming evaluations to cut down on injuries. The gap between commissioning such a study and putting the findings into action can be weeks or months.

Compare that to the real-time feedback delivered by a wearable device. An AI-enabled hand wrap, for example, can recognize when an employee is flexing their wrist in a particular direction too often and deliver a preprogrammed haptic cue. A gentle buzz is often all it takes to remind the employee of their training and correct their movement.

In a recent survey of manufacturing and distribution workers, Ansell found that nine in 10 employees are interested in wearing connected technology that warns of movements that put them at increased risk of injury. Another 90 percent were interested in having this data used to personalize safety training.

  1. Movement data can be used to personalize employee training

In addition to this real-time application, data collected by wearable devices over days, weeks, months or years can be used to improve workplace safety training.

Once collected and analyzed by machine learning systems, motion data can be used, for example, to identify those employees and teams most prone to unsafe hand and wrist movement. An individual employee who pronates his wrist too often could receive one-on-one training to correct his form. Or an entire department that had been identified as having a high rate of unsafe motion could be entered into a personalized training regimen.

The efficacy of this training can then be monitored and improved. Let’s say our at-risk department saw significant reversion one week after their first training session: the safety team may consider adjusting its approach for a second training, the results of which could then be compared back to the first.

Let’s consider a real-world example. A leading logistics and warehousing company recently used data gathered from tech-enabled hand wraps to identify a segment of workers who were performing 70 percent or more of their hand movements outside of the recommended form. This group of employees—about a quarter of the total workforce—was retrained on proper ergonomics and this training was reinforced with haptic feedback on the job.

By the end of the training cycle, risky movements among this group of employees decreased by 38 percent.

  1. Handheld devices can improve hazard response

Just as traditional ergonomic studies can introduce lag time between problem and solution, so too can traditional processes slow down hazard response.

Workplaces are often reliant on small safety teams to manually inspect and record dangers like spills and equipment malfunctions. Typically paper-based, these systems can require hours or days for a response team to become aware of and address the problem.

In the same Ansell survey, nearly 90 percent of respondents said they see something in the workplace that poses a safety risk at least once per week and another 47 percent said their employer could improve how quickly they respond to safety hazards.

Here again, IoT can make all the difference. Using handheld devices, employees can flag hazards as soon as they see them. Safety teams receive real-time updates and can address the issue within minutes. By empowering employees to participate in hazard identification, businesses significantly increase their safety team’s visibility of the floor and dramatically decrease response times.

This is ultimately the greatest achievement of workplace safety IoT: empowering employees to become active participants in their own safety. Granting workers this agency not only keeps them safe and productive, but builds trust. Amid the Great Resignation and a worsening labor shortage, the impact of that trust on recruitment and retention is difficult to overstate.

Companies who invest in workplace safety technology show they’re investing in their people, not just the products they build.

About the Author

Stephanie Gifford, , OTR/L, CKTP, CLT, CPNE, CDRS is the Business Development Manager for North America for Ansell’s Inteliforz. She has a background as an Occupational Therapist working in hand therapy, industrial wellness, ergonomics and technology solutions. Stephanie’s passion is utilizing disruptive technologies to improve health and safety in the workplace. She is a former business owner and has been in the medical device sales industry for over 10 years. Stephanie resides in Tampa, Florida and is available for meetings in person or virtually.

Featured image: Cavan