Wearables Help Keep Workers Safe This Holiday Season
The holiday season is here, and with Christmas shoppers and holiday orders beginning to flood into stores, businesses will be working overtime to keep operations running smoothly. Unfortunately, that uptick in demand often puts warehouse workers at greater risk of injury, more so than at any other time of year. As companies seek to prevent workplace injuries and avoid high compensation and rehabilitation costs, harnessing technology to actively prevent injuries is becoming an increasingly popular strategy.
According to global safety solutions provider Ansell, giving organizations immediate biofeedback through wearable technology is the key to preventing injuries. The company launched its workplace safety product and service brand Inteliforz earlier this year, and IoT World spoke to senior manager Stephanie Gifford and director Beemal Vasani about the rising importance and changing design of workplace wearables, and how companies can expect to see meaningful industry change as we enter the holiday hiring season.
A Changed Market
The global wearable device market has seen rapid growth and development in recent years, driven commercially by the rising popularity of wearable fitness trackers and smartwatches, as well as significant changes in consumer perception of and attitude towards the technology.
“In general, employees are more open and willing to use wearable technologies,” said Gifford. “When it first came out, it almost seemed like Big Brother, with fears over companies wanting to control or monitor employees all the time, whereas now there’s been a shift where people are more open and accepting to technology, realizing that it’s really truly there to help you. I think we’ve seen a real shift in the mentality and how accepting people are to use it.”
This shift was driven by the integration of technology into increased aspects of our lives, a trend that was accelerated during the pandemic as users drove demand for biometric monitoring, remote fitness tracking and contactless health assessments. There has also been a change in the perceived value of technology, and the amount customers are willing to spend on certain tools and features.
“People’s perception of technology and its value has changed drastically over the last 10 to 15 years,” said Gifford. “Nobody bats an eyelash now at paying $1,200 to $1,500 for the newest iPhone, which would have been unheard of back in that time.”
With a more accepting customer base, wearable design has shifted to become smarter, sleeker and smaller for ease of deployment, with user experience and explainability at the heart of current designs.
Getting the Most out of Wearables
With wearables deployed in a wide variety of industries, engineers have seen an increased demand for visual, explainable data to enable usability regardless of a wearer’s experience. Providing managers and employees alike with an understanding of the device’s findings also enables behavioral change and operational adaptation to see cost and time savings, as well as improved safety standards.
“[Businesses] want to have data they can go back to and look at trends,” said Vasani. “Now you have visual interfaces that show trend analyses, and it’s easier for businesses to digest the tidbits they need, and then act upon them.
“Previously, you would give data to people but they often didn’t know what to do with it, so often they weren’t seeing widespread adoption by organizations,” he said. “On the flip side, if you solely give a user the solution without any information of what’s happened, they’re once again in the position of not knowing what they did wrong or right. We’re still at the cusp of perfecting these solutions, and I think in the next two to three years we’ll see some real changes in connecting these technologies to real-world applications.”
Over time, the focus of workplace wearables has also shifted toward integrating real-time analytics to change user behavior, actively retraining wearers out of harmful movements. The combination of this renewed focus, and the emphasis on explainable data, means businesses are seeing rapid, tangible changes in employee behavior.
“Wearable technologies have been around for a while but how we’re utilizing the data and how we’re programming certain haptics is different,” said Gifford. “While previously we used to collect the data, we didn’t use it to target behavioral change. The light-bulb moment came when we were able to program features that would allow us to use a haptic to change behaviors.”
For example, Inteliforz’s wearable tech alerts wearers if their position is unsafe during certain tasks, as well as if they’re in a zone that requires certain protective equipment, the idea being that the adapted behavior eventually becomes second nature.
“Around the holidays, when you’re working longer hours … workers are going to be straining more and the level of injury is going to go up,” said Gifford. “That’s where technology can really tell us when we’re hitting that precipice and where I think it’s critical that we really look at how this technology and this data could give us the insight to intervene before things move into that rehabilitative category.”
What’s Next for Wearables?
Interoperability and customization are top of the list for Inteliforz looking forward, as well as integrating multiple sensors onto a single device, according to Vasani.
“You’re not going to have workers put on 10 different sensors, it’s just not going to happen,” he said. “It’s going to take them forever, so there’s going to be a consolidation of how those actual items are being used in the workplace.”
While acceptance of wearable devices has seen significant growth in the past few years, Gifford warns that barriers to adoption remain, with the technology’s development often outpacing companies’ implementation.
“Right now I think the culture does need to shift a little bit more,” said Gifford. “Currently, it can take companies 18 months or two years to see the decision to purchase something like wearable technology, and by that time, it’s so long that technology is now obsolete.”
While we may not see wearables reach their full potential this holiday season, Ansell is confident of the market’s trajectory. As consumers get increasingly tech-savvy, those slow to pick up these technologies could soon lag.
“As connected technology becomes a bigger and bigger concept within organizations, the businesses lagging behind will start to see folks move away from them a little quicker,” Gifford said. “Instead they’ll work for innovative companies that are embracing technology that is prioritizing worker engagement.”
“As we see these products being developed, we’ll need to see ROI development, and ways to make the employee feel safer, more productive and happier,” said Vasani.