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A practical look at AI wearable technology

16 January 2024

Artificial Intelligence is currently transforming the outlook for health and safety in the workplace. Here, Graham Sharp talks about the ways that wearable technologies can be used in the workplace and how logistics managers can harness the technology to improve workplace safety.

IN THE UK, new AI health and safety monitoring devices like the WearHealth exoskeleton suit scanning technology, are bringing exciting and disruptive change. In addition, companies like Modjoul offer wearable technology providing safety provisions like forklift collision avoidance technology as part of its SmartBelt technology. 

Units are installed inside the industrial vehicle to provide an accurate location in real-time within centimetres. Units are also positioned throughout the site to provide alerts in high-risk areas such as blind spots. Workers receive haptic proximity alerts from their SmartBelt wearable device alerting them to the presence of a forklift or other industrial vehicle. Simultaneously, drivers are alerted to a worker’s presence via a tablet-like display or with a customisable audio alert. The devices simultaneously collect data and measure ergonomic and positioning factors, ensuring that there is detailed data on potential near misses in specific zones.

If you are responsible for logistics in a workplace where these hazards are commonplace, then AI technology could transform safety training around hazard avoidance, giving you peace of mind that all potential dangers are being monitored and tracked at a granular level.

Exoskeleton solutions for musculoskeletal disorders

Wearable technology can also be used to feed back to managers about ergonomic activities in the workplace and has the capacity to cut accident rates and ensure that productivity rates remain high.

Technology providers like WearHealth, match the right exoskeleton suit to the activity being performed with the aim of ensuring their usual daily tasks can be performed without the risk of a back injury. The process is straightforward. Video scanning technology is first used by a specialist safety consultant to assess a particular task. The worker is videoed performing a task, which is then processed by an algorithm to assess risk. An ergonomist reviews the data to take into consideration the weight carried, static movement and scheduled breaks. From this data a detailed report is written to make recommendations to the management team on the best exoskeleton suit to fit that task.

Once a suit is selected from the recommendations, the organisation can trial its effectiveness using sensors on the neck, leg, and heart. The activity is conducted without the suit to provide a benchmark and then the sensors are worn whilst wearing the exosuit to demonstrate the improvement comparison metrics. Organisations can then clearly see the impact of the exoskeleton before and after, creating a business case for future investment. The right exoskeleton for that task can then be fitted and used as required based on the potential effectiveness and useability. For anyone working in the manual handling sector, this type of technology is transformative, allowing the management team to focus training on areas where there are particular risks.  

Using data to inform workplace safety

Once data analysis from the AI wearable devices has identified the risk profile, a comprehensive intervention plan can be drawn up. 

Effective planning measures may include:

• More comprehensive training on certain aspects of the job role looking at specific groups based on risk factors such as age, new starters, riskiest activities etc

• Involving staff in targets and improvements e.g. reward-based systems. In the US, they have found that if workers themselves are able to track their training progress either on their own mobile phones via a bespoke app or on supplied in house technology, they are more invested in their own health and wellbeing. So, for example, they can track their performance and see whether they are reducing their hazardous movements.  This can be linked to a rewards-based system where they may get a reward when they hit specific targets. 

• Tracking progress post training to ensure that employees stay on track and act on the training they have had on risk avoidance.  Where issues are identified, wearable technology can be used to help to reinforce activity around moving vehicles and to correct physical movement including bending, reaching and stretching to avoid potential injury.

Return on investment

These AI solutions do come at a cost and the initial outlay needs to be justified by the business. However, evidence is already proving the value and returns of these solutions not only in the reduction of workplace accidents and injury, but also in more targeted training and support. As well as this, products like the Modjoul SmartBelt have the capacity to be utilised in different ways. It can be worn by workers to improve bending, stretching and lifting technique and also to assist with collision avoidance on the warehouse floor.

The granular data generated by the devices allows employers for the first time, to focus on providing more comprehensive targeted training based on risk analysis. The data can then be tracked post-training to ensure that employees act on the training they have had on risk avoidance or manual handling. Where issues are identified, wearable technology can be used to help to reinforce correct movement and avoid potential injury.

Introducing new technology can be daunting, but there are industry-leading companies to provide support and guidance every step of the way.

Graham Sharp, managing director, Stanley

For more information, visit www.stanleyhandling.co.uk