Handle with care: IoT solutions help workers avoid back injuries

Companies improve workplace safety using IoT systems, ergonomic designs and gamification

Over a million workers suffered back injuries last year, costing U.S. firms over $70 billion. A single incident can cost a firm over $6,000. Why are there so many back injuries? How can IoT help reduce injuries and expenses?

The demand to work faster often causes bad lifting habits. Couple this with bad operations design, and you can see why there are so many back injuries. The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) recommends ergonomic equipment and workflow design to reduce the physical demands on workers. To begin with, it helps to know which activities and equipment cause the most injuries to workers.

To determine that, you need to monitor workers without interfering, alert workers when their incorrect lifting posture might cause and injury, and analyze workers' movements and the plants in which they work to design safer environments. Enter IoT—sensors, analytics and alerting systems.


Wearable devices  with gyroscopic (body posture), altimeter (height) and magnetometer (alignment) sensors are used to monitor how a worker’s back moves and bends. The information collected is either stored on the device and transmitted to the cloud at the end of the shift or transmitted continuously. Bluetooth low energy (BLE) is often used for communications because it conserves energy on the sensors, which have limited battery power. The sensor data is analyzed in the cloud to generate safety alerts for workers and operations dashboards for management.

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Encouraging better work practices

The challenge isn't just a technical one. How do you motivate workers to change deeply ingrained habits? Vibrating alerts are helpful. Shift supervisors can review working habits and posture analysis with their teams using online dashboards. Gamification also helps increase adoption of new habits. It leverages people's natural desires for competition and status to adopt new practices. Workers compete with their teammates for small rewards based on who worked the safest during a work shift.

Refining work practices

Analysis of the sensor data can yield valuable insights. Which tasks and equipment cause the most injuries? What are the safe levels of activity to minimize injuries? Are certain workers more prone to get injured than others? This information can then be used to design a more ergonomic and safer work environment. Installing mechanical aids to reduce stress on a worker’s lower back is a common improvement.

Commercial IoT solutions

Kinetic—A New York based firm whose belt-mounted device, coupled with sophisticated algorithms, tells workers when they’re lifting well and provides activity analytics for management.

DorsaVi—The ViSafe uses wireless sensors, video cameras and analysis software to tracks workers' movement in real time so that firms create a safer work environment.

Lumo—The Lumo Lift is a small bio-mechanic motion sensor worn near the collarbone to track posture and activity levels via a mobile app.

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The demand on workers to do more and handle heavier packages contribute to the increase in back injuries. But the need for increased productivity should never come at the expense of worker health and safety. Affordable IoT solutions that monitor and encourage workers to safer habits can make a difference.

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Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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