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Are wearables the new power tool of the workplace?

June 13, 2016

The risks and rewards of wearable technology.

wearables welder

Big data means big opportunities. Smart, connected wearable devices are capable of generating an unprecedented amount of real-time readings and, according to recent reports, are even being considered as “the new data resource.”

Perhaps that’s why lately I’ve been seeing our customers’ appetite grow for wearable devices that enable them to collect data and gain efficiencies like never before.

Smartglasses. Smart watches. Clothing with embedded sensors. Smart safety helmets. Even things like exoskeleton wearable chairs. Companies are intrigued by the potential of wearables. Experts believe wearable technology will increase from 40 million units currently to 411 million units by 2017.

There's a tremendous amount of interest regarding wearable technology to track fatigue and repetitive movements. Wearable technology that predicts the level of fatigue and stress in the workplace is of particular interest for the manufacturing, energy, construction and transportation industries, as well as for companies with shift workers and safety-sensitive jobs.

The potential for sprains, strains and worker injuries can mean big loss exposures. If companies can more accurately understand and track the likelihood of someone having an accident, they’re better able to adjust the way employees perform that work. For instance, they might be able to rotate jobs or change the shift scheduling, thereby reducing fatigue-related incidents and increasing productivity.

I’m fascinated by this new technology and energized by its potential. According to Salesforce Research, 79 percent of wearable tech users think wearables will play a big role in their company’s future success. And 77 percent report that their business performance has improved since implementing wearables.

It’s exciting that Zurich is out in front of this technology and we are helping our customers mitigate the risks and exposures for their workforce. The technology is tremendous, but so are implementation challenges with regard to legalities and risks. 

Some of the risks to think about when considering this new technology:

  • Who has access to the information you’re tracking?
  • What happens if health data gets hacked?
  • What happens if the information is disseminated inappropriately?
  • What are the legalities associated with confidentiality and civil liberty issues?
  • What if the wearable device has a defect or reports information incorrectly?
  • What if an employment action is taken based on inaccurate or faulty data from a wearable device?

These and other undefined risks are left unchallenged at this point in time, and it's incumbent upon your company to do the due diligence before you implement this technology. The key is to make sure that you understand all the ramifications with this fast-emerging technology and build in control points.