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Employers use wearables, drones to improve workplace safety

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DALLAS —  Monitoring technology is set to transform workplace safety, but employers and workers compensation insurers still have challenges ahead, a panel of experts said.

The ability of employers to closely monitor the actions of employees and to intervene to correct workplace behavior has the potential to greatly improve safety practices, they said.

But while those efforts may help reduce workers comp costs, the aging workforce is creating other pressures that could increase loss costs, they said during a session of the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America’s annual meeting in Dallas on Tuesday.

This year, a small number of Amerisure Mutual Insurance Co. policyholders started using sensors, drones and wearables to monitor employees on worksites, said Gregory Crabb, president and CEO of the Farmington Hills, Michigan-based insurer.

“It’s fascinating to watch it work … for example, if an employee gets too close to a hazardous area, such as an excavation or heavy machinery, the wearable will vibrate on their wrist, so hopefully it will prevent the accident from happening,” he said.

In addition, Amerisure gathers the data and can identify employees that frequently receive the safety warning vibrations and can intervene with the employees and their supervisors, Mr. Crabb said.

“And we are working on body movement and sensors on the body that might help prevent back injuries and things of that nature,” he said.

While access to the data may lead to changes in pricing, other workplace safety trends may also have an effect, panelists said.

In particular, the aging workforce is likely lead to more severe injuries, said Timothy NeCastro, president and CEO-designate of Erie Indemnity Co. in Erie, Pennsylvania.

The baby boom generation is working longer than earlier generations, which will likely lead to increased health care costs, and they may be more likely to be injured, he said.

“As workers age and stay on longer, we would expect to see the severity of workers comp costs to rise, which is something that needs to be managed more effectively,” Mr. NeCastro said. 

In addition, more experienced workers usually are paid more than inexperienced workers, so indemnity costs will also rise, he said.