If companies had fitted select employees with information-gathering wrist bracelets in the 1970s and 80s, they might have been able to prevent employees from acquiring Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. After all, data would have likely shown the unnatural wrist position used by many employees, and companies might have taken steps—wrist braces, correctly adjusted chairs and desks, information sessions—that could have prevented those pinched-nerve injuries that reduced productivity, caused employee discomfort, and ultimately led to increased workers’ compensation costs.

 

 

For both employee and employer, this is no small thing, as pointed out in the journal Transactions on Systems, Man, and Cybernetics. “Mainly motivated by increasing healthcare costs and propelled by recent technological advances in miniature biosensing devices, smart textiles, microelectronics, and wireless communications, the continuous advance of wearable sensor-based systems will potentially transform the future of healthcare by enabling proactive personal health management and ubiquitous monitoring of a patient’s health condition,” wrote Alexandros Pantelopoulos, a senior research scientist at Fitbit in San Francisco, and Nikolaos G. Bourbakis, the director of the Assistive Technologies Research Center, at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio. “These systems can comprise various types of small physiological sensors, transmission modules and processing capabilities, and can thus facilitate low-cost wearable unobtrusive solutions for continuous all-day and any-place health, mental, and activity status monitoring.”

 

 

 

MIND YOUR BACK

 

 

Lance Ewing, executive vice president for global risk management and client services at Cotton Holdings Inc. in Katy, Texas, discussed how a belt can help employers protect their employees’ lower backs by sharing date on movement, time, and place. “Employees do this all the time, a lot of twists and turns … office employees, plant workers,” Ewing said in a recent story on Business Insurance. “If I have to pick up a large object, and I don’t bend at the knees, it will data-mine what I am doing. This monitors what employees do every day.”

 

 

While some employees may feel the watching eyes of Big Brother, Eric Martinez, founder and CEO of Modjoul Inc., in Clemson, South Carolina, the developer of SmartBelts, said the data can be used to prevent future injuries. “We say, ‘We are not trying to get you fired,’” he said. “Ultimately, it’s we want to say that after you have been working for this company for 35 years, you won’t have this aching back situation.”

 

 

Still, Martinez said that there will be a “black-box reading” three minutes before and three minutes after a claimed injury. Information can be used to help counter fraudulent claims and further pinpoint problem areas. The technology also can be used to monitor someone recovering from a work-related injury.

 

 

Companies may soon use fitness-tracking devices to monitor everything from a worker’s movement when picking up a box in a warehouse to how he or she is recovering from an injury. If used correctly, the data can create safer workplaces, enable more productive employees and save unnecessary spending.