According to the National Safety Council (NSC), a worker in the U.S. is injured on the job every seven seconds, and employees in industries such as construction, transportation, manufacturing and production are most affected. When we think of workplace injury, many of us imagine those tragic incidents like an oil worker falling into a pit or the fallout from a facility explosion, but the most common conditions facing industrial workers are ergonomic injuries.
Ergonomic injuries occur from repetitive motions and are exacerbated by overexertion, improper techniques or poor posture. A consistently high volume of ergonomic injuries over the past several years calls into question the effectiveness of employee safety training, and whether that training includes ways to mitigate ergonomic injury at all.
A cursory look at current safety training practices can reveal a highly reactive approach. Employers in industrial sectors must understand where their safety training techniques are falling short and take a more proactive approach to creating a culture of safety at the training phase. The alternative could be continued employee turnover, a disappearing workforce and caps on productivity that companies cannot afford in today’s fast-paced economy.
The Problem With Current Workforce Safety Training
When employees aren’t educated on proper form, they can be far more susceptible to injury. When we mix in the fast-paced environment of a quota-driven warehouse or distribution center, for example, form can suffer even more. As a result, employees can also suffer from injuries, such as shoulder and back strain, carpal tunnel and/or hernias, just to name a few.
Despite these clear and present hazards, basic training can often fall short. Many trainers fail to address the dynamic nature of many manual labor jobs and the variable personal factors like gender, size and weight that can dictate what “proper form” means for the individual. As a result, industrial sectors have normalized poor safety culture and have accepted the staggering cadence of ergonomic injury as par for the course.
Employees, though most directly impacted, aren’t the only ones who feel the sting of poor training. Organizations can rack up fines and pay out thousands in worker’s compensation, thus losing out on valuable productivity. Poor safety training is a lose-lose situation for workers and employers, but the good news is: Ergonomic injury is largely preventable, and the introduction of personalization and tech could be a saving grace. Modernizing workforce safety for manual laborers is a pressing need in today’s dynamic industrial landscape.
The Role of Personalized Technology in Training
Industries each have their own unique safety challenges. On top of that, every individual has different conditions (e.g., medical histories, age), rendering a one-size-fits-all approach to workplace safety training futile. However, with the availability of new technology like wearable devices and virtual reality (VR), employers and employees can better understand risks and hazards, specific to the individual, job role or department.
Wearable technology and artificial intelligence (AI) can arm managers and employees with real-time information of potential hazards. For example, the technology can notify an employee lifting boxes if they’re putting too much strain on their back, helping to eliminate a risk of injury. In addition, AI and tech can go beyond identifying risks, and equip workers with insights on how to correct movements to proactively prevent musculoskeletal injury.
Having this information and being able to plug it into a larger database can help employers or managers of specific departments better understand and mitigate common risks. They can then formulate training plans that are not only preventive, but also specific to an individual person or job role. Technology is an essential first step in modernizing workforce safety training.
The Long-Term Consequences of Antiquated Workforce Safety Training
While the positive effects of modernizing and personalizing workplace safety are numerous, employers may balk at the price of adopting these solutions. However, these costs are an investment which can pay dividends in the long run. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) reports that businesses can receive an average return on investment (ROI) of $4- to $6 for every dollar invested in workplace safety programs. However, cutting$4 to $6 for every dollar invested in workplace safety programs. However, cutting corners in training can come at a heavy cost, with no accompanying ROI. The average workplace injury costs $41,003 in direct costs alone, not including costs from stopped work, OSHA fines and penalties, incident reporting, legal fees and the cost to replace and train a worker.
Direct costs of injury are just the tip of the iceberg. A culture in which physical safety isn’t guaranteed is having a massive impact on the current and prospective workforces, making industrial jobs far less attractive, resulting in high turnover. This is particularly problematic, because patterns of burnout and workplace injury frequently coincide with spikes in production and increased demand.
Modernizing workforce safety for manual laborers is a pressing need in today’s dynamic industrial landscape. While pertinent for ensuring a safer workplace, current safety techniques may continue to fall short without investing in VR and AI to fill in the gaps.