Below the Neck: Body- and Wrist-Worn Wearables in the Workplace

Written BY

Emily Friedman

November 6, 2017

Watch this panel of thought leaders and practitioners from different enterprises share use cases of body- and wrist-worn wearables they’ve deployed in their organizations. You’ll see that below-the-neck wearable devices are being applied to both collect data from and push immediate feedback to workers:

Applications and Lessons:

In healthcare, wearable data is used to learn more about patients and improve care. With new possibilities of collecting data on human behavior, chronic conditions, etc. come new, never-before-seen challenges for those in medicine. How can wearable data be used – and more significantly, how should it be used – to change patient care, make better care decisions, coordinate care more effectively, and empower patients to care for themselves?

In other workplaces, wearable data helps identify hazards and keep employees safe. A small wearable radiation detector can ensure that astronauts stay below established exposure safety levels on space missions. Leidos is developing such a device for NASA, taking a commercial, off-the-shelf device and extending its capabilities to fit the user’s needs and limitations in space.

The EHS team at General Electric is focusing on highly hazardous processes across the company’s portfolio, exploring wearables from two angles: Body-worn wearables that can make hidden hazards more visible (ex. voltage or ergonomic sensors;) and those that can augment employees to do their jobs with less risk of injury, i.e. wearable robotics. After all, safer workers certainly get more work done, which goes to show that information-displaying smart glasses aren’t the only wearable technology that can aid productivity.

Exoskeletons that assist with strenuous tasks can reduce injuries on the job, but so, too, can ergonomic data from much smaller wearable devices. Caterpillar is using wearable data to find hot spots where poor ergonomics are hurting workers. An important lesson: You can anonymize the data and still improve safety–the data is more important for identifying those hot spots. The technology can provide immediate haptic feedback to condition users (without naming them;) or the information can be shared with users later on, letting them take ownership of the data and self-manage.

In addition to wearable sensors and exoskeletons, body-worn cameras, which can be used to record work progress, also fall into the “below the neck” category. This is very useful on a construction work site, an environment that’s rather volatile and constantly changing.

You cannot discuss the use of body- and wrist-worn wearables without addressing employee privacy, employee buy-in, IT and legal concerns. “Good will” – the intent to improve safety or make workers’ jobs easier – is not enough, which is why the EHS team at GE works very closely with data privacy and labor relations teams to really think through each use case. How do you get “boots on the ground” to wear the devices? By starting small even though the technology has the ability to do more, showing how employees personally benefit, and letting them see the information (transparency) and employ it themselves.

Further Reading