There’s a growing buzz in workers compensation that technology, the workplace, and the role of workers are changing more dramatically today and at a faster pace than ever before. Along with shifting jobs and evolving workplaces come new and changing exposures to worker injuries. Questions continue to arise about the status and evolution of safety technologies.
In our first installment of NCCI’s series “The Future of Workplace Safety Technology Is Now,” we shared insights from our interviews with four workers compensation insurers in various stages of testing, introducing, and implementing safety technology. For this second installment, NCCI interviewed six technology innovators who are actively working with workers compensation stakeholders to create and provide various types of workplace safety technologies, including:
Internet of Things (IoT)
This article explores the workplace safety technology provider viewpoint on developments in workers compensation.
- The safety technology providers we interviewed exhibit a passion for worker and workplace safety that drives their innovation and ability to create new products and businesses.
- Safety technologies typically have a focus on either the individual worker or the workplace environment; however, some technologies do both.
- Musculoskeletal injuries are the primary injury target thus far.
- Manufacturing and warehousing are currently the primary industry focus.
- Several interviewees provided examples indicating reductions in worker injuries and workers compensation claims due to their products.
- A lack of awareness of available products and technologies is at the top of the list of noted obstacles to implementation; other challenges include privacy concerns, the cost of the product, and employer safety culture.
- The future of safety technology may include customizable products and combinable technologies for a more holistic approach. The providers also mentioned expanded use of AI and a “real-time” focus.
The evolving workplace and role of the worker are top of mind for workers compensation stakeholders. One of the rising industry concerns about the shifting workforce and workplace is the potential impact to the frequency and severity of on-the-job injuries. As part of our ongoing dialogue with workers compensation stakeholders around the country, NCCI is often asked about the status of safety technology being utilized in the workplace, such as wearable devices.
In this second article of our three-part series, we relay the perspectives gained from separately interviewing representatives from six technology providers at various stages of creating, introducing, and implementing workplace safety technology.
Safety Technology Provider Interview Questions and Insights
Here are some key questions from these interviews:
- What was your motivation to create the safety technology product?
- How does the product improve safety?
- Are there specific injury types or industries that can benefit from the technologies?
- What is the potential impact on injury reduction?
- What are the obstacles for implementation?
- What is your vision for the future?
What was your motivation to create the safety technology product?
All safety technology providers interviewed shared stories around creating their products that were rooted in a passion for preventing workplace injuries, often having their origins in personal or family experiences. Some saw first-hand the impact of family injuries, others saw how risk management activities were more focused on assessing injuries after the fact, rather than providing solutions to prevent them.
How does the product improve safety?
Our interviews revealed that workplace safety technologies generally tend to focus on either the individual worker or on the workplace environment. However, some safety technologies focus on more than one area.
Individual worker focus: This type of safety technology includes wearables, exoskeletons, and ergonomic assessment applications. Generally, these are devices that workers wear on their bodies that focus on factors related to a specific worker such as posture and body temperature. These devices often provide an ergonomic or risk assessment intended to address worker behavior. Some provide feedback directly to workers, including real-time haptic feedback. Others may provide feedback to both workers and managers via a dashboard.
Workplace environment focus: These technologies aim to provide a more comprehensive view of the workplace and include video technology synced with multiple cameras in the work facility. These devices can detect safety hazards such as spills on the floor, poor lighting, congested workspaces, and other obstacles that may create inefficient operations and safety issues. The information is then delivered to floor or safety managers so they can act.
One tech provider uses videos that pull directly from existing cameras to evaluate potential hazards. This can provide a 24/7 eye of the facility. Another provider uses wearable technology to capture environmental conditions including air quality, sound, and air pressure. Yet another video technology captures the workplace environment, which is subsequently uploaded and reviewed to provide and recommend actionable items.
Multiple focus points: Workplace safety technologies that address both the individual worker and the workplace environment include a wearable that detects a worker’s proximity to hazards as well as air temperature, air quality, and noise levels in the workspace. Another example is video technology that provides feedback on worker lifting techniques and identifies workplace hazards.
Regardless of whether the safety technology focuses on the individual worker, the workplace environment, or both, the technologies share a common feature of providing feedback for improvement. The safety technology providers distribute this feedback and support to their customers in various ways, including detailed analytical reports, online dashboards, safety consultations, and direct feedback to workers in the moment.
Are there specific injury types or industries that can benefit from the technologies?
By industry: The safety technology providers indicated that their products are primarily used in the manufacturing and warehousing industries. Several also mentioned that products may be used in food processing, packaging, retail, restaurants, and auto dealerships in addition to industries such as agriculture, mining, oil and gas, construction, and ports sectors. Others are exploring potential uses in healthcare including hospitals and nursing homes. While most providers have been focused on “four-walled” environments, there are plans to expand to outdoor industries to address concerns about heat and other environmental factors.
By size of insureds/employers: Safety technology providers are focused on a variety of employer/insured sizes. Some providers currently concentrate on medium and large employers, which have at least 50 employees or $50,000 in workers compensation annual premium. Others are targeting smaller companies, which they define as employers that do not have an internal risk manager.
The technology providers noted that products aimed at larger employers generally require a more sophisticated risk management team and implementation process. Interviewees also shared that larger employers appear to have greater awareness about safety technologies and the potential value for their organizations. They stated that this seemed to be one of the primary reasons for larger employers to be early adopters. Based on NCCI data,1 Figure 1 shows the number of lost-time claims distributed by industry2 and size of insureds. The top three industries, Manufacturing, Retail, and Transportation and Warehousing, account for about 38% of lost-time claim counts and 37% of claim dollars.
By injury type: Several safety technology providers noted that ergonomic-related injuries tend to be a primary focus, especially musculoskeletal injuries for the lower-back and wrist, with potential plans to broaden the applications to other body systems such as the shoulder.
Understanding the causes of injury is critical to preventing them. According to NCCI data, the two leading causes of injury are strains at 32% and slips/falls at 27%, which together account for 59% of the lost-time claims.
With some exceptions, the share of strain injuries tends to be negatively correlated with the share of slips/falls within an industry. Figure 2 shows that Wholesale, Retail, and Manufacturing have the highest share of lost-time strain injuries, while Accommodation and Food Services makes up the lowest. On the flip side, Accommodation and Food Services has one of the highest shares of slips/falls, while Wholesale, Retail, and Manufacturing are among the ones with lowest shares of slips/falls. As different technologies have different strengths in preventing certain types of injuries, there are opportunities to identify the technology or combination of technologies that may be useful for various industry sectors.
One technology provider stated that it focuses on industries or employers where at least one third of the lost-time claims are strains. There are various movements that may cause a strain injury, such as lifting, pushing or pulling, repetitive motion, and twisting. According to NCCI data, lifting is the movement that most frequently results in strain injuries—more than one out of three strain injuries are caused by lifting. Multiple technology providers have noted they are working on solutions that can help detect improper movements and poor ergonomics.
In addition to strains, some technology providers mentioned that their products also help prevent slips/falls. For example, a video AI can detect liquid or grease spills or snow or ice on the ground and communicate the hazardous situation within seconds.
Beyond claim frequency, claim severity also varies by injury cause and industry. NCCI data shows that slip/fall injuries tend to be more costly than strain injuries across all industries. The average severity of strain injuries is $37,000, while that of a slip/fall injury is $51,000. In Construction, the differential almost doubles—an average strain injury costs about $50,000, while an average slip/fall injury costs $94,000. As technology providers expand product usage to more hazardous industries and more costly injuries, there may be a much bigger impact on claim costs.
What is the potential impact on injury reduction?
The technology providers interviewed provided several illustrative examples as to the potential impact the technologies may have on injury reductions and workers compensation claims. While NCCI does not have data to independently assess the impacts, here are some of the examples that the technology providers shared:
Video AI/Computer Vision. One provider shared that after implementing the technology, a window and door manufacturing company reported a 95% reduction in overhead lift high-risk postures, a 59% reduction in waist bend high-risk postures, and a 59% reduction in squatting high-risk postures.
Another provider reported that an automotive manufacturing company that implemented its AI-powered video analytics achieved an 86% drop in forklift safety incidents and helped prevent slip and fall injuries. They further shared that the implementation also optimized workflows by identifying “unseen” operational inefficiencies in vehicle data and improved equipment utilization by flagging “parking duration” events.
Wearables. One provider reported that a manufacturer had a reduction of 62% in injury rates and 49% in claims costs over a 12-month period; an insurer had a 43% reduction in primarily strain, sprain, and overexertion injuries over five policyholders’ facilities in a 12-month period. In another example, within the first two quarters of deployment of wearables, data collected from nine manufacturing sites showed a 19% reduction in OSHA-recordable injury rates (strain/sprain) among all employees, compared to the same time frame of the previous year. Additionally, data from the device provided customizable insights into how employees were moving while performing their jobs, which led to new opportunities to improve workplace ergonomics.
Another provider reported that policyholders piloting the safety technology have reduced workers compensation claim frequency by 50% or more and severity by 90% over a three-to-six-month timeframe.
Exoskeleton. One provider’s exoskeleton suit learns to recognize unique body positions and responds by providing power and support when needed, then it records and reports the motion activity for better understanding of daily movements and insights over time. According to the provider, 77% of users reported a reduction of injuries and 86% reported a reduction in body fatigue.
Ergonomic Application. According to one provider, a distribution center operation implemented its ergonomics software to determine poor postures in employees, the frequency of certain movements, and how long poses are held. The software offers automatic recommendations on which postures should be corrected and what parts of the body should be considered for adjustment with estimates of risk reduction.
After six months, safety staff shared that they felt more empowered and found the software led to more healthy collaboration between safety teams and line workers. The distribution center noted that it experienced a 68% decrease in recorded musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs).
What are the obstacles for implementation?
The safety technology providers identified several obstacles to implementing their products. These included privacy concerns, the cost of the product, employer safety culture, and lack of awareness.
Privacy concerns. The safety technology providers stated that privacy concerns continue to be an obstacle to implementing their products. Workers may not trust what their employers are doing with the data collected from a wearable or video, especially if they do not fully understand the purpose of the product. However, it was noted that education, communication, and transparency may in some cases help alleviate these privacy concerns.
Some technology providers shared that they go to great lengths to address data privacy concerns, including blurring worker faces in videos and aggregating or not storing data. One of the providers noted data encryption may be utilized so that no one other than users with an encryption key can view the video—not even the product developers.
Product cost. Another potential obstacle to implementation is the cost of the safety technology product. Customers may be charged for the products and technologies in various ways, including fees per device and subscription charges, while some do not charge for upfront costs. The providers work with both workers compensation insurers and employers to make their products available and may offer their products complimentary as part of an insurance policy or distribute it directly to insurers to share with insured employers. The technology providers noted that customer costs may also be offset in some cases by potential insurance premium credits and other incentives, if available.
Employer safety culture. As noted in our first article in this series, once again technology providers reaffirmed that for safety technology to be successfully employed and adopted, the customer must value a culture of safety. This includes support from leadership and buy-in from workers and middle management. “The most challenging part is to get everyone aligned in order to make the change,” one technology provider said.
Awareness of product. Several interviewees identified lack of awareness about the technologies and potential results as a major challenge to implementation. They shared that this lack of awareness was more prevalent with small to mid-sized employers and is one reason for slower growth in the industry.
What is your vision for the future?
The technology providers shared their visions for the future, which include multiple safety technologies working together, real-time/instantaneous feedback, customizable products that are easy to use, and an affordable product for everyone.
Multiple technologies working together: One vision for the future is to combine the safety products with other safety technologies so multiple technologies would work together to provide comprehensive worker and work environment monitoring. This is more of a holistic solution. This approach could also provide aggregated data from multiple devices for better feedback and results. However, it was noted that the best solution depends on the overall goal, which may differ from employer to employer.
Real-time feedback: The concept of “real-time” feedback and intervention from safety technology is growing. Several technology providers indicated they are working toward an instantaneous response to a hazardous situation, such as an automatic shut-down of a machine when danger is detected. While this is an ambitious goal, it was noted that some technologies already provide feedback within seconds—which is very close to “real time”—and there continues to be value in analyzing data after the fact to determine near misses and potential safety hazards.
Tailor product to individual customer’s needs: Another vision for the future is the ability to tailor a safety technology product to an individual customer’s needs. Certain safety technologies may work better for specific exposures and operations. Interviewees also noted that more detailed analysis and assessment for customers would be helpful.
Ease of use: In addition, the technology should be easy to use and obtain. One interviewee indicated that the solutions should be so easy that a smaller company could order the product online, install it themselves in minutes, and train themselves on how to use it.
An affordable product: The cost has come down significantly for certain products since their initial release. Interviewees noted that they would continue to balance cost and product features, aiming to ultimately have “a price point that is affordable for everyone.”
Through our interviews, we learned that innovation is alive and thriving in the arena of workplace safety technology. There are numerous types of technologies available today and even more on the horizon. Some current products focus primarily on individual workers or a specific task, while others are centered on the workplace environment. And yet others do both. Notably common to all is that they provide feedback to customers through various mechanisms including analytical reports, dashboards and metrics, professional staff consultation, and instant notifications to employees.
Looking to the future, technology providers indicated they are excited about advances in AI and computing capabilities. Such advancements could expand detailed metrics and analyses, conceivably in real time.
While one safety technology or device may not work best for every type or size of operation and industry, it was clear from our interviews that technology providers are passionate and eager to work with employers to reduce and prevent workplace injuries. Overall, this is a positive movement forward for the workers compensation system and all those who support our most important system stakeholders—workers and their families.
The third article in our series will feature insights from employers that adopted innovative safety technology described in this report.
The articles in this series reflect the interviewees’ opinions on the topic. Special thanks to the technology providers that generously shared their thoughts: CompScience, Kinetic, MākuSafe, Seismic, TuMeke, and Voxel.
This article is provided solely as a reference tool to be used for informational purposes only. The information in this article shall not be construed or interpreted as providing legal or any other advice. Use of this article for any purpose other than as set forth herein is strictly prohibited.
1NCCI Unit Statistical Data, including all states where NCCI provides ratemaking services; incurred losses reported through 10/6/2023.
2Industry is derived from the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) code reported in NCCI Policy Data.