Date: Jan 14, 2020
Magazine:
January/February 2020

By Ken Cooper

Did you know the injury rate for agricultural workers is more than 40 percent higher than the rate for all workers? This shocking statistic comes straight from the Occupational Safety & Health Administration and should be one that both business owners and employees remember. Workplace injuries not only affect workers physically, but they can also have long lasting financial and emotional effects on workers and their families. Additionally, there is the financial impact on your business in the form of lost productivity and higher workers compensation costs.

The team at Western Growers Insurance Services has taken a proactive step forward to address this issue head on. Say hello to the Western Growers Connected Worker Program.

This new program is designed to help prevent injuries before they occur. Using modern technology and wearable devices, we will help improve processes in the workplace through the data we collect, which will ultimately lead to a safer and healthier work environment. Helping your workforce avoid injuries and lost time benefits both you and them.

You may be asking yourself why we have decided to invest in this type of program. The answer has everything to do with the advancement of technology. The right technology is now available to effectively and efficiently monitor worker behaviors and proactively prevent injuries before they occur. Today’s sensors are lightweight and attach to several different wearable options. All the options are comfortable and easy to wear throughout the day. We have also partnered with experts in worker health, safety, and technology to find the most practical solutions that apply to the unique environment and body movements that agriculture work requires.

How this technology works is simple. The sensors in the wearable devices detect everything from unhealthy lifts and bad bends to twists, falls, trips, and slips. Haptic feedback, a slight vibration similar to the vibrations of a cell phone, can be enabled to provide real-time feedback for workers to use caution when the worker performs activities that are unhealthy or can lead to injury (for instance, a deep bend).

Before introducing this program to all of you, we ran a series of pilot programs over the past two years to test the concept and technology. During the initial phases of our test, we worked with several members’ work crews throughout California and collected in excess of 100,000 hours of workers’ data. Key takeaways from those pilot programs included a deep appreciation for what it takes to be successful in the field with supervisors and workers, and a continued desire to make the workplace safer for employees.

In the interest of avoiding questions or concerns related to employee medical privacy, the sensors will measure only certain body movements (body mechanics) such as walking, running, twisting, bending, standing, sitting, and falling from height. Biometric data (e.g. heart rate, blood pressure, etc.) of the workers will not be collected. The data that is gathered from each wearable device will be summarized and shared with the employee. Supervisors can use the analytics to provide employees with coaching and feedback on how they can perform their work duties more safely and signal potential group safety training topics.

Additionally, risk managers and operations professionals can use their data to evaluate operational processes and procedures for any opportunities to improve worker health and safety. Most importantly, employee data will be anonymous to anyone outside of the company they work for, which means employee identities and personal information will be protected.

Finally, we are working with several different workers compensation insurance carriers to provide financial consideration for those members who adopt this program and realize a reduction in claims.

As we implement the Connected Worker Program on a more widespread basis, we want you to remember that our focus is on you and your employees. This program was designed to help your company monitor and improve safety practices, develop injury prevention methods, and reinforce awareness of safety and a positive safety culture. If you have any questions, are interested in learning more, or would like to bring the Connected Worker Program to your business this year, please reach out to me at kcooper@wgis.com or (949) 379-3858.

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Western Growers members care deeply for the food they grow, the land they sustain, the people they employ, and the community in which they live. 

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