A.I.M. Mutual: Emerging Issues: Wearable Technology and Today’s Workplace
Welcome to the A.I.M. Mutual Insurance Companies' podcast. I'm Mark Millett, the Senior Manager of Human Resources here at A.I.M. Mutual and I want to welcome all of our listeners and thank you for taking the time to check out our podcast dedicated to the emerging issues in workers' compensation. So today we're going be talking about wearables, really exciting technology, becoming more and more common in all kinds of work settings. Now it's a broad topic. One that covers everything from an app that counts your steps to state-of-the-art robotics, and there's a lot of ground to cover here. So, welcome Patricia Coutu, who is a Supervisor of Injury Prevention and Worksite Wellness, and Chris King, who is an Injury Prevention and Worksite Wellness Consultant. And they're going to give us a sense of the potential impact of wearables. So I'm really excited to talk to you guys, Patricia and Chris. Thanks for joining us.
Thanks for having us, Mark.
It's good to be here.
So to get started tell us a little bit about what qualifies as wearables and also what type of industries might benefit the most from these technologies.
Yeah, well, like you said earlier, Mark--you know, Patricia and I talked about this a couple of days ago and it is a very wide and broad subject, and it's one of those that when people hear wearable technologies, I think they get confused a little bit or they get overwhelmed by the topic itself. So we thought it'd be best to really break it down to the three main categories. And those are pretty simple, you know, one is safety, which Patricia's going to touch upon in a minute, which really has a subcategory of 4 or 5 under safety itself.
And then there's wellness and security. Wellness is one that, again, very timely --just this morning on Good Morning America, there was a huge piece about recovery and wearables: Whoop, Fitbits, all those type of things. And, they really do help with recovery which again, for workers' comp is a big piece of our business-i-njured people recovering to their previous health status. And the third one that's kind of come in just more recently in the last few years is actually security. You know, people that work in retail lone worker situations, things like that that have panic buttons, and those are also considered wearables as well. But what we deal with most cases is safety. And I'll let Patricia talk about that a bit
Under safety you have certain devices like smart, personal protective equipment. For example, we have a company called Iris Tech, which I was reading a little bit about, and they actually have these safety glasses that have an optical zoom feature, which could be really valuable in terms of precise work. They have, you know, these extended cameras. I mean, we have all these extra features. So, you know, the safety piece of it in terms of the PPE is really an area that I think that we're going see a lot more of moving forward.
That's really cool. Really cool.
And Mark, just to finish up, when you think about industries, you know, when you think of wearables, you think a lot about automotive industries, you know, the Toyota motor lines where people are flipping cars upside down and they're on, you know, assisted lifting devices and things like that, but also manufacturing like Patricia said, and the trades, those are the industries that we see the most need in right now.
So are the main benefits related to productivity, to safety, both equally? What would you say?
Well, I think me and Patricia are on the same page on this one. And as you know, safety professionals, we always think that the number one thing should be keeping employees healthy and engaged, you know, both mentally and physically, because when employees are healthy, engaged, and part of the solution versus part of the problem you'll see productivity increase anyways. So, you know, productivity's a great thing and you can ride your workers and push and push and push, but if you have them be part of the solution then they are healthy and engaged both mentally and physically and your productivity will go up automatically.
So, so it sounds like the human element's still just as critical.
Okay. I found this very interesting, right. There was a recent study that lower back injuries from lifting and handling heavy, heavy objects on the job accounted for 100 billion in medical costs each year in the US. So in addition to safety, there's definitely an economic consideration as well. Can wearables like something as basic as a back belt help mitigate these numbers?
Well, like anything else there's pros and cons and I'll touch on the pros of it a bit and then turn over to Patricia for the cons. But, just remember that a back belt alone will not prevent any type of injury. You know, it acts as a postural reminder, it helps keep body parts warm. And sometimes it's just enough to make you think about the activity you're gonna do before you actually execute that activity just enough to save on injuries like that. So when you think of a back belt, it's really not like you see in a gym where weightlifting, where somebody puts it on in those squats and it's, it's actually helping, but it's really worried more about your body posture lifting technique and things like that versus, you know, an actual way to stop an injury.
Yeah. Go ahead, Patricia. You're gonna talk about some downsides it sounds like.
Right. So, the downside to implementing the back belts by themselves just to prevent lower back injuries, is it, first of all, it puts all the ownership on the worker. It's just PPE and it's really at the bottom of the hierarchy of controls when you think about how to protect workers. But the idea that back belts will solve lower back injuries really ignores the need for an overall workplace evaluation, you know, looking at job redesign. This can include, you know, where are materials being placed? You know, where are storage locations? Are they high? Are they low? You know, I mean really focusing on the upstream piece of that, it's really part of a comprehensive ergonomic program and actually looking at how to reduce the load in general. So, you know, oftentimes when employers look to put in a back belt, they sometimes can miss that piece of it, which also includes employee training.
Okay. Very helpful. Very helpful. So, Chris, when you started off, you talked about kind of the three buckets, right. You know, we talked a lot about biomechanics that reduce stress of lifting or repetitive tasks. Talk about the wellness side of the house. Why is it so critical that employees focus on wellness and how can wearables make a difference?
Yeah, well, I think, you know, going back to the piece, we just talked about, you know, healthy, happy, engaged employees are good employees. And you know, when you look at biometrics in general, that's something in the last, you know, 10, 15 years that has just, you know, flourished, unbelievably. And it's really about overall wellness and some of the biometrics things that those pick up on heart rate, recovery time, blood pressure, some of them even have EKG technologies, steps taken and that's all super important for any kind of rehabilitation. And again, it used to just be focused on rehab, but right now it's kind of switched to pre rehabilitation. So people are starting to look at for real world by far, but it's very popular for athletes. And we often think of our employees as industrial athletes so the more that they can know about their body, their biometrics and how they're performing, you know, the better off they'll be.
So what I am actually seeing is, you know, some of these conversations with our policyholders are actually starting with wellness piece in terms of wearables. I mean, injury prevention and worksite wellness is like right in our title. And so we talk with our policyholders about wellness pretty frequently, but you know, the Fitbits and some of these wellness metrics is really kind of where that wellness, the wearables piece actually steps in. And we can actually have further discussions on that. I mean, certainly with the pandemic that we've all been going through, just the wellbeing of employees has become more of a focus and, and mental health and things of that nature. So we're seeing a lot more focus on wellness and the wearables are just working into that pretty well.
Okay. Prevention is definitely key. Right. Can you talk a little bit more, Chris? I think you kind of touched on this a little bit, but talk a little bit more about how these metrics that the wearables can provide can be really valuable for someone recovering from an injury, maybe a surgery or something like that.
Yeah, absolutely. You're actually seeing a lot of doctors suggesting it post-op to have some type --if you have it on your iPhone or Android or you're lucky enough to have one of those other devices--but it really checks for simple things. You know, things like temperature, heart rate, blood pressure, EKG settings, those are all leading indicators to some type of potential risk or problem. And what they’re usually thinking of is infection. So if your body has an infection after a surgery the quicker you can realize it and quicker you can do something about it. The better off you are in that healing process and having something like a Fitbit or a Whoop or any of those things certainly give you huge insight into what your body's doing and how it's recovering which is very helpful post surgery,
Right. I've actually seen that there could be some benefit even prior to surgery. So sometimes we will have somebody that's injured and their surgery is postponed because of maybe some uncontrolled conditions like diabetes, or if they're heavy smoker. And so, you know, it needs to be brought under control before the doctors will even do surgery. So, I mean, that can actually keep progress from happening if they can't get a handle on that. So I could see, you know, wearables really helping a claimant try to, you know, get ahead of that. And so they can actually get to that next level.
They can kind of monitor themselves and whatever they need to monitor.
Yep. Awesome. Awesome.
And sometimes it's just activity, you know, the doctor tells you I'd like you to walk a couple of miles a week and sometimes it's just steps. If you're having a knee replacement or hip replacement, it reminds you to get up. I know my wife always has something—if I’m on the couch and it says it’s now time to get up and stand. Are you breathing? Things like that.
Just good gentle reminders to do what you're supposed to be doing.
Definitely, definitely. Okay. So what does this all mean for workers' compensation in terms of claims experience both short term and long term?
Well, I think in general, you know, whatever we can do as a business or a support staff to help support and educate employees to become healthy, happy, and engaged is better for the employee, better for the company and better for us--it's a three way win all the way around.
Yeah, you're absolutely right, Chris. So, you know, in the short term, oftentimes we're looking at the less claims, the lower the premium, right? And that really is a win-win for both us and our policyholders, but there's also all the indirect costs. If an injured worker is out and they have to replace them, but really the long term is these injuries will remain with you and you'll be paying more, you know, over the long term. So for small businesses like contractors that have to bid, if they have high injuries. I mean, they may not even get the bid. So, it's bigger than just an injured worker and it really can impact the bottom line for businesses.
That it's, it's amazing to think about, right. Because Chris, like your wife, I get the notifications on the couch. It's time to stand and time to breathe. But to think about it in terms of how it can help employers and their workers, not only stay healthy, but keep healthy and get healthy it's really quite amazing. So you guys are injury prevention experts, you know, how do you keep pace with this emerging technology and wearables and you know, keep our policyholders up to date on safety initiatives
Yeah, honestly, I mean being a safety professional, man, you know, we're out there, we live it every day. We see it every day. We see things that have been around for decades and we see things that are brand new that people are bringing into the workforce. So we're actually pretty lucky about that, but we do, you know tap into our professional organizations. We certainly talk amongst ourselves as a department and a group and, and share knowledge as much as we can. But we also do I mean, speaking for myself and I think everybody else, we all do a lot of research. We're on the computer. We're trying to get ahead of problems, trying to keep up the pace with the new, emerging technologies and really our number one focus has always been and will always be being proactive--proactive communication, and proactive services to get ahead of problems before they become too big.
Yes, absolutely. One of the things that we've done in our department is we've all become certified wellness program coordinators. So that requires us to stay up on emergent technologies and trends in the wellness field. But also we see changes in regulatory requirements, which often triggers manufacturers to look at new ways to control the hazard. And the wearables is really on the forefront of that. So every time we're looking for a new way to prevent an injury, we have new technology and manufacturers are looking to meet that need. And as Chris had mentioned, we're always reading journals, we're attending conferences. And a lot of that is right on the forefront and that's where it's being presented. So that really keeps us up to date in order to provide, you know, the most up to date technology to our customers.
And that's awesome. So you guys in injury prevention and worksite wellness, you guys are great. You do so much for our brokers, policyholders and injured workers. It's amazing and I really want to thank you both Patricia and Chris for joining us today and sharing your insight on this. So thanks very much. I want to thank all of our listeners for tuning in and just remember, you can reach out anytime with thoughts or questions you might have. We can keep this conversation going and you can check out all of our A.I.M. Mutual podcasts on our website or Apple Podcasts or Spotify. Thanks again, Patricia and Chris, and thanks again everyone.
Thanks guys. Time to get up and move.