The Psychology of Injury - Wearable Technology in the Workplace

Posted by Fit For Work on Aug 19, 2019 8:04:00 AM

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There is no shortage of new technologies flooding the occupational health and safety market. Several of these devices are meant to measure, provide feedback and ultimately “correct” poor or “dangerous” movements of a worker while he or she completes tasks in a physical and repetitive industrial work environment. 

Despite the excitement surrounding wearable technology, there is a reality that settles and points to the fact that these motion detecting devices currently maybe very expensive “fools gold” and have no proven effectiveness in:

  • Correcting “dangerous” movements
  • Improving workplace productivity
  • Reducing workplace injury

Severe Lack of Data Supporting the Efficacy of Wearable Technology

When it comes to the reliability of the data and “guarantees” of wearable technology, there are several factors employers need to consider.

Unactionable Data

An inherent flaw for all motion detecting devices is that they use a subjective interpretation of risk. The posturally related sensors provide the employer “risk-related data” but the supposed risk they measure fails to correspond to any industry established norms quite simply because there are no known norms for what constitutes a “safe” vs “dangerous” movement.   

Manufacturers of wearable devices are arbitrarily establishing a “redline” of what is or isn’t considered “safe.” For example, is 15 degrees of forward bending “safe” or “dangerous”?  Further, if 15 degrees is deemed “safe”, is 16 degrees suddenly unsafe?  Would the safe vs unsafe rating change if the weight being lifted was 5 pounds vs 100? If it was a one-time lift or repetitive.  If the product was being pushed/pulled vs lifted?  What if the employee was 50 pounds overweight, diabetic and had a low job satisfaction? Would that change the “redline” as compared to an employee who had healthy body weight and loved his or her job?

It’s easy to see how these sensors can produce a lot of unactionable data, in a frothy startup market in the search for the next “FitBit.”

Compliance Barriers

Consider battery life. Often requiring recharging mid-shift, the practicality of 700 shift workers swapping out their wearable midshaft is making Operations managers cringe as the cost of lost production time alone would be staggering, compared to a supposed cost reduction in injuries.

Expensive

The initial expense for employers who invest in wearable technology is significant> but employers also need to consider that beyond the initial hardware costs there are also costs in maintaining/leasing the equipment as well as software subscriptions, all of which make any hope for an ROI highly questionable

Lack of Long-Term Results for Employers

Because at Fit For Work we focus on human-centric workplace solutions that are supported by evidence, we currently advise employers to note that wearables fail to consider the psychological components to an injury as they are built on the premise that an injury is only due to physical forces (i.e. the wrong movement). To the contrary, there a mountain of clinical research showing that psychological factors play a critical and predictable role in the injury process, something that no wearable is accounting for.1-7 For employers to effectively reduce workplace injury, they must factor in the morale of their employees, the employees personal pain beliefs as well as evidence of effectiveness and track record supporting the solutions they are evaluating. To date, our team of experts has not found any long-term studies proving the effectiveness and safety of wearable technologies for musculoskeletal injury prevention. 

References

  • Louw A, Diener I, Butler D, Puentedura E. The effect of neuroscience education on pain, disability, anxiety, and stress in chronic musculoskeletal pain. . Arch Phys Med Rehabil. 2011;92:2041-2056.
  • Louw A, Zimney K, Puentedura EJ, Diener I. The Efficacy of Therapeutic Neuroscience Education on Musculoskeletal Pain – A Systematic Review of the Literature. Physiother Theory Pract. 2016;32(5):332-355.
  • Louw A, Diener I, Landers MR, Puentedura EJ. Preoperative pain neuroscience education for lumbar radiculopathy: a multicenter randomized controlled trial with 1-year follow-up. Spine. Aug 15 2014;39(18):1449-1457.
  • Moseley, G.L., A pain neuromatrix approach to patients with chronic pain. Man Ther, 2003. 8(3): p. 130-40.
  • Van Oosterwijck J, Meeus M, Paul L, et al. Pain physiology education improves health status and endogenous pain inhibition in fibromyalgia: a double-blind randomized controlled trial. The Clinical journal of pain. Oct 2013;29(10):873-882.
  • Moseley GL. A pain neuromatrix approach to patients with chronic pain. Manual therapy. Aug 2003;8(3):130-140.
  • Jensen KB, Kosek E, Wicksell R, et al. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy increases pain-evoked activation of the prefrontal cortex in patients with fibromyalgia. Jul 2012;153(7):1495-1503

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Topics: Injury Prevention, Safety, Wearables

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