NCCI: WC Stakeholders Look to Wearables as Key Industry Tool

26 Jun, 2019 Nancy Grover

                               

Boca Raton, FL (WorkersCompensation.com) - Wearable technology has the potential to be “a game changer” in the workers’ compensation industry. However, it is still in its infancy, according to stakeholders interviewed by NCCI.

In a new report on wearables in the workers’ compensation system, the Florida-based rating and research organization discusses current uses of wearables, and expectations for them to prevent injuries and speed recovery and return-to-work efforts.

A wearable device “is any advanced electronic device with smart sensors, worn or carried on the body, that seamlessly collects and transmits data through some type of network connection, such as cellular, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, or GPS,” wrote Laura Kersey, division executive for Regulatory & Legislative Analysis at NCCI. They can be used to “monitor and track activities, analyze motions, alert for hazards, and augment physical capabilities, among other things.”

An example cited in the report was the use of a wearable device to help a first responder recover from a spinal cord injury. The worker was fitted with an exoskeleton and was able to return to work as a police officer six months later.

But such examples are somewhat rare — at least for now. Insurance companies and other organizations are testing wearables; however, right now it is mainly in the proof-of-concept phase.

“Companies are expressing interest in exploring uses for wearables as advances are made, yet only a handful of companies have piloted the technology to date, according to the stakeholders we interviewed,” the report says. “Similarly, while some larger employers are piloting wearables, the actual use among employers overall appears limited so far.”

Pre and Post Injury

Wearable technology “has the potential to be a game-changer for workers’ compensation,” Kersey wrote. “One stakeholder indicated a 30 percent to 50 percent reduction in back-related injuries during the proof-of-concept stage and the potential for more reductions in injuries and claim costs as wearable technology improves and becomes more widely used.”

Measuring an employee’s movements in various workplace environments could significantly reduce some of the most common workplace injuries. NCCI’s data shows lifting, pushing or pulling, along with falls, slips and trips result in the majority of claims.

While still in the proof-of-concept stage, the technology can measure the amount of weight lifted and the number of times an employee moves an item. The real-time data could then provide immediate feedback about a potential risk, such as emitting a vibration the worker would feel if he is lifting in an unsafe manner, so he could correct the lift before an injury occurs.

“Over time, and with improving technologies, the reliability of the data is expected to increase so that ultimately, as one of our stakeholders noted, ‘wearables will be able to combine data and machine learning and apply predictive analytics to identify situations where injuries are more likely, so that employers and workers can take preemptive corrective action to reduce the risk of injury,’” the report says.

The devices and associated technology can detect range of motion and posture, so workers recovering from an injury are alerted and/or limited in terms of making potentially unsafe movements. This could eventually prove especially valuable for workers in industries with high claims severity, such as contracting — roofing, plumbing and excavation.

Going Forward

The vision for wearables as a key part of injury management requires eliminating certain obstacles. The cost is one, although expectations are they will become more affordable over time as more companies and products enter the market.

The concern about privacy is another issue. However, the information collected from the devices is mainly about a worker’s environment rather than specific medical information.

One cautionary note concerns possible unintended consequences if, for example, workers and/or employers become too dependent on the wearables. “Coaching, education, and training programs can help workers learn to appropriately use wearables and enhance the potential safety benefits,” Kersey wrote. “As one stakeholder noted, ‘wearables are tools that can aid in keeping people safe, but they are just that — tools. They do not eliminate safety best practices or replace the need for a strong safety culture.’”


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    About The Author

    • Nancy Grover

      Nancy Grover is a freelance writer having recently retired as the Director, Media Services for WorkersCompensation.com. She comes to our company with more than 35 years as a broadcast journalist and communications consultant. Grover’s specialties include insurance, workers’ compensation, financial services, substance abuse, healthcare and disability. For 12 years she served as the Program Chair of the National Workers’ Compensation and Disability Conference® & Expo. A journalism/speech graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University, Grover also holds an MBA from Palm Beach Atlantic University.

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