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 fact, some insurers are testing or discussing these technologies, and in some cases, providing them to their customers/policyholders. Although the application of advanced technology for safety purposes is not new, as evident in the use of telematics in the automobile industry for many years, it is still fairly new and evolving in more traditional workplaces.
Based on interviews with multiple workers compensation insurers, safety technology vendors/suppliers, and insureds, this series is a presentation of perspectives from various stakeholders. In this article, the first installment of NCCI’s series “The Future of Workplace Safety Technology Is Now,” we explore carrier viewpoints on the latest trends in safety technology.
- Insurers are exploring multiple types of advanced safety technologies and are at various stages of implementation
- Back injury prevention is a common focus for new workplace safety technology; however, applications are available to address many other injury types
- Manufacturing, warehousing, and logistics industries are mentioned as principal target industries for modern safety solutions
- An employer culture of “safety and trust” is seen as critical to the adoption and sustainable use of advanced safety technologies
- Integrating workplace safety and operational efficiency may result in wider adoption of safety technologies
- More testing and analysis are needed to fully quantify the value of modern workplace safety technologies
- Safety technologies are deemed to be a “game-changer” by some industry experts; all interviewees see these technologies playing a major role in the future of worker injury prevention
The evolving workplace and role of the worker are top of mind for workers compensation stakeholders. A rising industry-wide concern about the shifting workforce and workplace is the potential impact on 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 first article of our three-part series, we relay the perspectives gained from separately interviewed representatives from four insurance companies in various stages of testing, introducing, and implementing safety technology.
Carrier Interview Questions and Answers
Here are some of the key questions from these interviews:
- What are these safety technologies and what do they do?
- How can safety solutions add value?
- Are there specific injury types or industries that may benefit more from newer safety technologies?
- What are the obstacles to implementation?
- What is the future of safety technology? Is it a game-changer?
The safety technology industry has evolved since NCCI published its first article on this topic.1 In 2019, NCCI interviewed three insurers that were exploring the use of wearables in the workplace. We followed up with one of those insurers for this article and interviewed three additional workers compensation insurers. The four insurers that we interviewed for this article are currently using or exploring multiple types of safety technologies, including wearables, Artificial Intelligence (AI)/Computer Vision, the Internet of Things (IoT), software applications, and drones.
What are these safety technologies and what do they do?
Wearables—A wearable may include sensors that are worn on the body. Industrial wearables are generally classified into four categories by function:2
Monitoring—Wearables may monitor a worker’s physiological responses, such as body temperature, pulse rates, and oxygen levels, as well as environmental conditions, including air temperature, CO2 levels, and noise. Wearables may also monitor a worker’s proximity to other workers and/or potential hazards in the workplace.
Supporting—An exoskeleton is a type of wearable that is used to support and assist a worker’s movement or augment the capabilities of the human body. Some exoskeletons may incorporate haptic technology, which can create an experience of touch by applying forces, vibrations, or motions to a user. These may serve to alert the user or allow for interactive action.
Training—Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) helmets are examples of wearables that can provide simulated training for workers.
Tracking—Wearables may track a worker’s location.
AI/Computer Vision—Computer vision and AI systems use cameras to help detect workers’ potentially unsafe movements and hazards in the work environment and provide real-time warnings. An employer can use these technologies to evaluate, assess, and take actions that aid prevention of worker injuries.
Internet of Things (IoT)—IoT sensors are pieces of hardware that can monitor changes in an environment, including temperature, pressure, and motion, and collect data about those changes. If these sensors are connected to a network, they can share data with that network. For example, a smart system can adjust the lighting, temperature, etc., in the workplace, as necessary.
Software Applications—Software applications can work together with video recordings or other tools for a more complete risk assessment. For example, an employer can use a mobile phone to record a video of a worker performing various tasks and then upload the video to a software application to assess risk and hazards and suggest improvements.
Drones—Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) can evaluate certain exposures without putting workers at risk for injury. For example, drones can evaluate roofing conditions and cell phone towers, as well as monitor air quality in confined spaces.
These safety technologies can work together to provide real-time workplace monitoring and possibly help prevent injuries. For example, if a worker is in a hazardous space, a
wearable can track the worker’s location and
AI/Computer Vision can monitor the environment and provide real-time warnings.
How can safety solutions add value?
There is a wide variation among the many safety technologies currently in use or in testing. The insurers we interviewed provided the following examples of how some of the various technologies are being used in practice:
Video AI and fixed cameras to monitor workspaces, while also providing
wearable sensor technology for the employees.
- For example, an employer may use fixed cameras in a warehouse along with AI technology to identify hazards that may lead to injuries, such as slips and falls from liquids, struck-by injuries from forklifts, and sprains and strains from improper lifting techniques and postures. Wearable technology can also be worn by an employee to provide proximity-to-hazard alarms and identify improper lifting or bending postures.
- Using both
wearable sensors on employees and a
video software-assisted application.
- For example, the software application works with point-in-time video analysis. An insurer representative analyzes the video to assess risk exposures and provide recommendations to the insured.
- Testing haptic
exoskeleton technology to help workers maintain correct posture when lifting.
- For example, an employee lifting a box from a standing position may get an alert as well as active assistance to help straighten the core and spine.
These safety technologies gather data about workers and the workplace, which can be used for real-time or hindsight analysis to improve worker safety. The interviewees reported that analysis of the data and the resulting safety enhancements are critical to the successful implementation of safety technology.
It was noted that the volume of data is vast, and methods for its compilation and analysis are still evolving. Currently, the carriers we interviewed said they rely primarily on results and tools provided by the safety technology vendors and they are still in an early stage of analyzing the data to quantify any impact on claim frequencies and severities. While the return on investment from utilizing safety technology can be measured through data analysis, other impacts—such as improvement in worker safety and reduced disruption of operations—are harder to quantify but may be of even greater value.
Are there specific injury types or industries that may benefit more from newer safety technologies?
Back injuries, including sprains and strains, are a primary injury area of focus for safety technologies, according to the workers compensation insurers interviewed. Back injuries are especially prevalent in the
warehousing industries and can be costly.
According to NCCI data,3 lower-back injuries rank first in lost-time claim counts (roughly 12%), third in claim dollars (roughly 11%), and “middle of the pack” in average severity, which is about $40,000 per claim. The top three body part injuries that involve lost-time claims are lower-back, knee(s), and shoulder(s).
Since back injuries are relatively common in the
warehousing industries, it is no surprise that the insurers we spoke with identified these industries as most likely to benefit from advanced safety technology. The insurers noted that, while the current safety technologies are more prevalent in traditional four-walled environments, such as warehouses, advancements in safety technologies are expanding to other workspaces.
What are the obstacles to implementation?
The insurers interviewed indicated they had
mixed results from implementing new safety technologies. They noted several obstacles to implementation, including privacy concerns, cost and return on investment (ROI), company culture, and change management.
Privacy Concerns—In our 2019 article, privacy concerns were identified as one of the obstacles to widespread use of wearable devices. Four years later, concerns surrounding the privacy of information collected continue to be a noted obstacle to implementation of safety technology in the workplace. Workers may not be comfortable wearing a device or being recorded while performing their jobs. While safety technology is generally known to collect environmental information about a worker’s surroundings rather than specific medical or health information, workers may hesitate to wear the devices as they may not fully understand or trust what is being done with the data collected. In addition, certain state laws and regulations may impact the type and scope of the data that employers can collect.
Cost/ROI—The affordability of advanced safety technology is another perceived obstacle to implementation, at least until insurers more thoroughly analyze data to evaluate the technology’s effectiveness. Some of the safety technologies are still in development, and there is not enough data to measure their effectiveness in reducing claim frequency or severity. The data provided by the new technologies is vast, and analyzing it thoroughly can be challenging. The insurers we interviewed noted that some safety technology vendors provide free trials, license packages, and other utilization incentives.
Employer Culture/Change Management—One insurer noted that for safety technology to be successfully employed and adopted, the insured must highly value a culture of safety, which includes support from executives and buy-in from workers and middle management. A greater likelihood of success was observed in companies with a high level of commitment to loss control; furthermore, companies were more likely to widely adopt safety technologies if they could also leverage them to improve operational efficiency. As one of the interviewed insurers highlighted, “communication, trust, and culture are critical to success.”
What is the future of safety technology? Is it a game-changer?
According to all insurers interviewed, advanced safety technology will be part of the future of workers compensation. However, one key to success will be the ability to analyze and fully understand data from these technologies. Addressing and overcoming barriers to implementation is another challenge.
When asked if safety technology is a “game-changer,” the responses varied, ranging from “It can be …” to “Absolutely.” Safety technology was mentioned as a potential differentiator to offer higher service and value. It was also noted that “safety technology will point out problems but may not point out solutions. But pinpointing the problem could lead to a solution.”
Whether safety technology will become a game-changer for workers compensation remains to be seen. From a broader perspective, working toward the common goal of preventing job-related injuries is good for all workers compensation stakeholders. As the workers compensation industry focuses on underwriting risks, claims costs, and improved outcomes for injured workers, it is natural for stakeholders to explore new ways to prevent or reduce worker injuries.
Workplace injury frequency has been decreasing for decades, reflecting improvements in ergonomics, safety rules and laws, technological advancements such as automation and robotics, and overall increased safety awareness and education by insurers and employers. During our interviews, we heard exciting comments about the growth of technologies powered by artificial intelligence and increased computing power. But none of these would make for a safe workplace without employers adopting a culture of safety and embracing the benefit of a safe workplace for employers and employees alike.
Loss prevention programs empowered by innovative technology may enable further gains in workplace safety for employers while also providing value for insurers. One unanimous message we heard during our interviews is that insurers believe advanced technology holds promise for the future of workers compensation.
The second article in our series will feature insights from safety technology vendors/suppliers.
The articles in this series reflect the interviewees’ opinions on the topic. Special thanks to the insurers that generously shared their thoughts: AF Group (including Accident Fund, United Heartland, CompWest, and Third Coast Underwriters), EMC Insurance Companies, Erie Insurance Group, and Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company.
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.
1Laura Kersey, “Technology at Work: Wearables in Workers Compensation,”
ncci.com, June 24, 2019, accessed on August 4, 2023.
2Ekaterina Svertoka et al., “Wearables for Industrial Work Safety: A Survey,” NIH National Library of Medicine, June 2, 2021, accessed on August 4, 2023.
3NCCI's Unit Statistical Data, Accident Years 2016–2021.