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Workplace Wearables Bode Well for Worker’s Compensation

—September 14, 2016
Workplace Wearables Bode Well for Worker’s Compensation

According to the Application Resource Center, 1 in 6 Americans currently own a wearable device. While fitness is still the top priority for most wearable owners, when used in the workplace, these devices have the potential to prevent accidents, streamline the recovery process, and ultimately, improve health and financial outcomes for employees, employers and the workers’ compensation industry. As employers adopt wearable technology solutions as a way to monitor and reduce workplace accidents and injuries, workers’ compensation insurers could potentially see a reduction in claims. Further, the devices hold promise as a tool to speed recovery times, reducing the time an injured party is away from the job. The caveat—these advances come with some important concerns around employee privacy that will need to be addressed.

Preventing Accidents

There is an explosion of workplace-focused wearables coming to market that go beyond smart watches and Google glass—everything from fabrics that measure heart rate and other vital signs as an indicator of stress to pressure-sensitive hard hats that detect concussions. There are devices that alert office workers to poor posture, measure hydration levels, and monitor air quality. While workplaces of all types have something to gain, industries where there is particularly high risk to health and safety—such as mining, oil & gas, manufacturing and even aviation—have the most to benefit from early adopotion. In fact, AIG made a strategic investment in the tech startup, Human Condition Safety (HCS), a wearable tech company that targets industries like these.

Smoothing the Road to Recovery

Another way wearables could have a big impact is during the recovery process. For proof-of-concept, one need look no further than professional sports, where high-performance athletes use wearables to collect, aggregate, and share data with coaches, trainers and physicians. The data is used to both identify and correct behaviors that are likely to result in injury and to improve performance. When a strain is detected, devices like Whoop, a wearable designed for “the best athletes in the world,” can even calculate a recovery score and make recommendations for what activities should be curtailed to enhance recovery, or what activities—like sleep—should be increased. From there, it’s not a big leap to devices that could be used to detect common workplace injuries, like those that occur from the overexertion, and recommend preventative measures, suggest recovery strategies, and even monitor compliance.

Protecting Employee Privacy

As I mentioned up front, the caveat here—and it’s a big one—is privacy. Many wearables today are set up to share information with other apps. For example, when you track your workout, you can share it on Facebook, which requires permission from the wearable app to connect. While this can be convenient, users may inadvertently give access to information they did not intend to share. Before companies invest in new technology, they need to work closely with their legal teams, labor unions and employees to address any privacy concerns of their employees. Those wanting access to the data will need to make sure there are clear lines drawn around what information is shared, how it is shared, and how employees can limit or stop sharing. There may even come a time when this is considered medical data and subject to HIPAA regulations.

Better Outcomes for Employer, Employee and Insurer

Ultimately, fewer, less severe injuries with a faster recovery time mean healthier employees—something both employers and employees can get behind. For workers’ compensation insurance providers, it may eventually translate into lower claims costs and fewer overall claims. Adoption may depend, in part, on the ability to balance privacy concerns with the benefit to employer, employee and insurance companies. Ultimately, wearables appear to have a solid place in the future of workers’ compensation.

 

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