How can using Wearable Sensors Reduce the Cost Associated with Workers’ Compensation Claims
Although wearable sensors have been around for decades, they started to take off in the healthcare market within the last twelve years. More frequently, the idea of measuring how much muscle length, force, power, and endurance are required for an employee to perform a specific job task is key data being sought out by more and more employers daily. Knowing this type of data ahead of time could not only reduce the likelihood of workplace-related injuries but will aid in cost reduction of the overall claim. This blog aims to identify how using wearable sensors in the workplace can promote employee wellness, productivity, and safety and reduce the cost associated with workers’ compensation claims.
What is a Wearable Sensor, and what are its benefits in the workplace?
A wearable sensor is a biosensor placed directly on a person’s skin and provides data and feedback to monitor muscle activity. It can also provide information regarding a person’s overall health. They are connected directly to the skin using an adhesive backing and easily conform to the skin to allow movement analysis. They can be placed on the back, hips, knees, upper extremities, legs, etc., aligned with the digital biomarkers that coordinate with their designated software. Three areas that wearables can assist in reducing the potential cost of a workers’ compensation claim are:
- Improving the hiring process for potential candidates.
- Developing injury prevention programs.
- Using physical/occupational therapists to facilitate safe, efficient return to work plans post-injury.
What type of data can be gathered using wearable workplace sensors?
Imagine being a front-line worker walking in at the start of your shift, and you see a spill on the floor as you head to your station. Depending on your work site environment, the time it could take to report the fall to a safety officer would increase the potential risk of exposure and harm for yourself and another employee. Wearable sensors are an excellent adjunct for employers to gain predictive data occurring in real-time to provide solutions to help reduce those hazards and improve workplace safety.
The overall goal for employers is to keep their OSHA recordable incidents low, and wearable sensors are a forward-thinking solution that provides them with proactive and preventive data they can use to improve their injury prevention programs. Injury prevention training can be conducted during employees’ onboarding and ongoing employment and reintroduced if they return to work post-injury.
In the workplace, musculoskeletal injuries make up most workers’ compensation claims. Wearable sensors can collect data about muscle activity to predict the fatigue, overuse, over-exertion, or repetitive motion an employee generates while performing a specific job task that could typically lead to a sprain/strain.
Environmental exposures and hazards such as noise level, air quality, temperature, and lighting can also be observed for potential risks using wearable sensors. Some wearables include voice recording and the ability to determine the proximity of other employees, which was helpful for some employers as they were ensuring compliance with COVID-19 guidelines.
By collecting data over time, the employer will be able to see potential risk patterns and align them with solutions to improve the overall safety of their worksite.
How can a Wearable Sensor help an Employer identify the best candidate for a Job?
Wearable sensors are an adjunct tool that can be used during a job demand analysis to assist the employer in genuinely understanding the amount of muscular performance required for each job task. A job demand analysis is performed by a licensed clinician to objectively quantify and qualify the essential functions of a specific job. It is used by the employer while writing their job descriptions. The employer can incorporate the critical job demand in their post-offer employment test.
A post-offer employment test is a functional test administered in a clinic or on-site that tests the employee’s candidate’s physical ability to perform essential job functions identified during the job site analysis. After the new employee completes their post-offer employment testing, a report indicates whether the applicant meets the job demands. This will help reduce the exposure and assist in identifying the best talent to ensure they are physically fit to perform the job demands.
How can Physical/Occupational Therapists incorporate Wearable Sensors into their treatment plan?
When an injured worker attends physical or occupational therapy, wearables could be used during treatment to drive behavioral changes about material handling tasks, postural positioning, strength training, balance activities, and job simulation. The data will be helpful for the clinician to adjust the treatment plan to meet essential job demands required for the injured worker to return to work safely. When used appropriately, a clinician can measure movement in real-time while simulating critical job demands, observing muscle activity and motor function, and identifying muscular imbalances to mitigate risk for the employee.
Article By Ashley Catapano, DPT, CCI, CEAS I, II, CIRS, FCE Evaluator
Director of Workers Compensation & Industrial Services
Ashley began her Physical Therapy career 16 years ago. Ashley’s clinical passion involves treating patients who have sustained work-related injuries. She has extensive training in Workers’ Compensation, Industrial Services, Employer Wellness, Injury Prevention, and Occupational Medicine population. She believes in providing outcomes-orientated solutions for musculoskeletal care and pain management. She places a high emphasis on safe, effective return to work for injured workers. She currently specializes in Workers’ Compensation and Industrial Services. She serves as Ivy Rehab’s Director of Workers Compensation & Industrial Services.
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