Digitally tracking worker movements to reduce injuries

A new wearable digital technology has already shown to help meat and poultry plant workers become aware of their potentially hazardous movements that could cause injuries. But the technology could also have additional benefits to workers on poultry farms and feed mills.

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Wearable sensors attached to gloves provide supervisors with real-time data that could improve labor productivity and effectiveness. (Iterate Labs)
Wearable sensors attached to gloves provide supervisors with real-time data that could improve labor productivity and effectiveness. (Iterate Labs)

A new wearable digital technology has already shown to help meat and poultry plant workers become aware of their potentially hazardous movements that could cause injuries. But the technology could also have additional benefits to workers on poultry farms and feed mills.

Dr. Jason Guss, CEO of Iterate Labs, talked about his company’s new technology during the 2020 Virtual Poultry Tech Summit on October 22.

The product Guss described is an industrial wearable that attaches to gloves of plant workers, which provides real-time connectivity to supervisors. The device tracks a worker’s movements, and records them. Supervisors can then tell what motions the workers make, and, if those motions put the person at risk of musculoskeletal injuries, they can learn how to perform the job with different movements that are less hazardous.

Cutting down on injuries is not only good for the workers, but for the companies that operate the plants.

The higher the incidence of injuries, the higher the level of worker absenteeism, and the higher the likelihood of employee turnover, Guss explained. But by reducing the number of injuries, not only are the plants staffed more appropriately, but the quality of the work should also be better.

“(When absenteeism occurs) they’re forced to try to operate at the same level, but with reduced staff, so this puts more workers at risk of injuries, and then also at a high risk of turnover,” said Guss.

When turnover is reduced, workers remain and the productivity improves.

“The more experienced you are, the better you are at doing work productively,” he said.

And when not having to deal with injuries, “Processors can work on workforce output, workforce availability and quality of work. If each of these factors can be better managed, then there is an increased output that can be achieved,” Guss said.

Lessons can be applied to training

The dashboard data from the wearables can help managers train potential workers. When seeing what the proper motions are, new employees can gain insight on how they can perform their tasks in a manner that greatly reduces their odds of an injury, Guss said.

Success rate so far

The technology has been used in poultry, beef and pork plants, as well as other industrial settings in the metal and auto industry.

Guss said the companies that have used the wearable product have had good results, reducing musculoskeletal injuries by 25%. Those facilities have also seen a 10% reduction in absenteeism and a 20% reduction in employee turnover.

Potential for poultry farms, feed mills

While the wearable product has so far only been used in processing plants, Guss said, “the technology without a doubt can work on the farm.”

“We’re still a young company, focusing on processing industry, but there definitely is the opportunity to apply the technology there,” he said.

That would also apply to feed mill workers who often have to do heavy lifting. Presently, most of the Iterate Labs technology has applied more to hand and wrist motions, but it is further developing the technology to be more applicable to shoulder and back injuries.

Concerns for privacy

Guss acknowledged there could be issues with workers being reluctant to wear the devices because it could be perceived as an invasion of their privacy. However, to date, such problems have not occurred.

“In terms of pushback from the workers, it’s not something that we’ve encountered. We’ve honestly found that in most cases workers are really excited to have a piece of technology like this incorporated into their daily practices,” he said.

In fact, when piloting the product at one plant, not all workers were issued a wearable device. One worker was upset that he was not chosen to wear one, Guss said.

Guss also noted that privacy concerns can be minimized because while the plant management has access to both the worker’s ID number and name, Iterate Labs only has access to the worker ID.

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