The Priceless Value of Implementing Safety Tech
Investing in the right technology can make for a more productive and safer workplace.
- By Sean Petterson
- Oct 03, 2022
With warehouse injuries rising every year, the standard safety and health measures such as PPE, training programs and daily stretching routines are no longer enough to keep workers safe. Prioritizing the safety and health of your workers means focusing on where and when injuries are occurring and fixing the issue at the source. With musculoskeletal injuries accounting for the largest category of workplace injuries, it is vital for companies to look at their industrial athletes as humans and protect them from injury or even death.
There are hundreds of ways that warehouse workers can be injured on the job, from poor ergonomic practices and slips and falls to heat risk and insufficient training. Unfortunately, the typical corporate safety programs do not address all these challenges warehouse workers face on a daily basis. It’s time for companies to begin implementing increased safety measures and correct dangerous employee behavior and movements to ensure workers’ safety and avoid hazardous mistakes moving forward.
When companies invest in the right technology, the return will be a more productive and happier workforce as well as money saved on healthcare and workers’ compensation costs. With the economy resting (literally) on the back of industrial athletes, the time is now to make safety a top priority and begin a downward trend in workplace injuries and deaths—something that has increased in recent years.
The Enormous Cost of Worker Injuries
The total cost of workplace injuries in 2020 amounted to $163.9B in the U.S., and there were 2.7B nonfatal workplace injuries and illnesses reported.
The four most common workplace injuries include overexertion, slips, trips and falls, repetitive motion injuries and colliding with a stationary object or equipment. Many of these accidents result in ergonomic injuries, which impact the body’s movement or musculoskeletal system, often resulting in strains, sprains and pulls. These injuries can happen gradually or in an instant, and often result in workers being sent home early or missing work. Musculoskeletal injuries are responsible for almost 30 percent of all workers’ compensation costs, proving to be a major pain point to companies.
But the cost to your workers? Their careers. For many that depend on their bodies for their livelihood, an injury can be career-ending. The everyday life of an industrial athlete is physically demanding, with risks around every corner and a life-altering injury just one mistake away. By implementing technology into the workplace, companies not only promote a positive safety culture that can mitigate risk for both you and your employees but also increase worker retention and happiness.
What is Wearable Safety Technology?
Wearable safety technology is any piece of technology that alerts the user of a potential or perceived risk in their operational environment and/or provides actionable solutions in close to real-time. These are used to ensure that each employee is using their body in the safest way to avoid accidents and injuries. These devices don’t have to be used in a warehouse setting, but can be used in any workplace and can be anything from technology that shows when air quality has dipped below a preset level, a wearable sensor that buzzes if workers get too close or even something as simple as an app on your phone that initiates 911 calls when you are in danger or injured.
One type of wearable technology is safety sensors, which are worn by workers and can detect a risk of injury as the worker moves throughout the warehouse. These sensors share real-time updates with managers on the warehouse floor so they can educate employees as they are working and correct issues as they occur, fixing their behavior before it turns into an injury. This can also help educate leadership on how best to train new employees and how often training sessions need to be implemented to ensure their current employees’ safety.
The data gathered from these devices can also determine where workers are slowing down throughout the warehouse or if there are certain areas that pose an increased risk. Management can then use this information to not only decrease injuries but also speed up warehouses and create a more efficient and productive workplace.
Looking at Safety as an Investment, Not an Expense
Companies need to view safety and the costs associated with keeping employees safe as an investment rather than an expense. The benefits of implementing this technology into your workplace is plentiful, with more efficient and accurate work practices, higher employee morale and less turnover and absenteeism. There is also money saved on worker’s comp, lost production time and lost employees as well as fines and citations for an unsafe workplace. Safety citations from OSHA can carry penalties from $390 to $136,000+ per violation, which can be detrimental to the profit of a company.
Lineage Logistics implemented wearable safety technology in a few of their warehouses and saw reduction in OSHA recordable incidents ranging from 30 percent to 62 percent. The data collected helped Lineage find safety opportunities throughout their processes to further ensure the safety of their workers. By leveraging the data gathered, they were able to become a safety resource for many of their customers that were facing similar challenges. A strong safety culture coupled with the data pulled from wearable safety technology allows Lineage’s industrial athletes to return home safely after work each day.
When looking at ROI from a safety perspective, it’s important to include both direct and indirect costs to fully understand the benefits. Safety sensors have proven injury reduction rates averaging 40 percent. When compared to the $163.9B annual workplace injury cost, plus OSHA expenses, a 40 percent injury reduction could easily save the private sector over $65B annually if universally integrated, and that’s the conservative estimate.
Retaining is Easier than Training
With an annual warehouse turnover rate of 43 percent in 2022, companies need to prioritize retention as part of their business plans. As we’ve dealt with the pandemic, supply chain issues and an increase in eCommerce spending, the demand for industrial athletes continues to rise. However, the cost of hiring and training new employees is significantly higher than retaining your current employees.
Over the past ten years, the percentage of first-year employee injuries has increased across industries, with an 11 percent increase in the manufacturing and wholesalers industry, showing the need for retention among warehouses to lower injury rates. Even more so, the injury rate among workers hired during a holiday shopping season increases as well, contributing even higher turnover. This turnover can lead to increased injury rates, lower productivity and low employee morale.
A report found that lost productivity costs U.S. businesses $1.8 trillion every year, and the cost of replacing an individual employee can range from one-half to two times the employee’s annual salary. With the cost of retraining a major burden for warehouses, implementing safety culture and technology can be the next step to retaining employees, keeping them both happy and healthy.
Safety as a Key Part of Your Company Culture
Safety culture starts with leadership, with the need for an emphasis on employee safety from the top down. If leaders aren’t encouraging and partaking in safety standards and measures, then employees won’t take safety seriously either. Leadership is where change needs to start. Executives need to emphasize and show their support of employee safety whether they have a role in the warehouse or not.
Communication is key, and it is important for executives to listen to their warehouse workers who are more knowledgeable about potential safety hazards and difficult areas to navigate. Communication from the top down can also be implemented by conducting regular safety meetings and risk assessments. It is also vital that management does not punish workers for poor safety skills, but instead uses it as an opportunity to properly train and correct dangerous movements and/or behaviors.
Data-centric safety technology such as wearable devices can be the answer for companies looking to create a safety culture while lowering costs and increasing productivity. This creates a higher standard of safety by going a step further than the standard safety regulations and shows your employees that you care for their safety and wellbeing. It’s imperative that companies ensure the safety of their industrial athletes by taking safety measures beyond compliance and regulation and using technology to keep workers happier and healthier.
This article originally appeared in the October 1, 2022 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.