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Wearable device logs workforce twists and turns

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SAN ANTONIO — Employers and their insurers may have found a missing link in solving the mystery of the Monday-morning workers compensation injury.

Wearable technology can now track and measure movement to gauge the time and extent of a soft-tissue injuries, presenters told attendees at the Risk & Insurance Management Society Inc.’s annual conference Wednesday in San Antonio.

Serving as the twisting, bending and golfer-simulating Guinea pig, Lance Ewing, executive vice president for global risk management and client services at Katy, Texas-based Cotton Holdings Inc., showed attendees how a belt-like device can show how fast he’s moving, where he’s moving, how much force is involved and more.

A screen to the left showed digital snapshots that had the appearance of a hospital heart monitor displaying movement in real time. Mr. Ewing, in a twisting motion, told attendees that such activity — occurring in virtually every industry from retail to manufacturing — can be a source of lower back pain, a sore spot in workers comp, he said.

“Employees do this all the time, a lot of twists and turns … office employees, plant workers,” Mr. Ewing said, demonstrating. “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.”

Eric Martinez, founder and CEO of Clemson, South Carolina-based Modjoul Inc., who brought to the market the device Mr. Ewing was demonstrating, said if employers can know what and when the employers are lifting or moving incorrectly in ways that cause lower back pain and injuries, they can help eliminate the issue with better training.

“A lot of employers are asking, ‘How do I get rid of the twist in my workforce?’” Mr. Martinez said. “That’s when the training opportunity comes into play.”

Such a WiFi-enabled device can track and store the information for the employer, giving risk managers and workplace safety supervisors a more accurate picture of unhealthy movement. If a person lifts a box from the floor while bending at the waist, versus squatting as the more appropriate technique, the belt will know and either inform the employer or vibrate so as to nudge the worker that he or she is moving dangerously, Mr. Ewing explained while demonstrating.

Another pro is that wearable technology can provide employers a “black box reading” three minutes before and three minutes after a claimed injury, said Mr. Martinez. The information, similar to what is gathered when airplanes experience incidents, can tell the employer when the employee had done something inappropriate or had jerked his or her body, as an example to show that some sort of impact or injury had occurred, said Mr. Martinez.

While targeting fraud is one objective, “advocacy and prevention” for workers and their injuries is at the heart of wearable technology, Mr. Martinez said.

“We say, ‘We are not trying to get you fired,’” he said, adding that the technology can help develop better-movement plans for workers, for example. “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.”