Just about every aspect of today’s supply chain operation is optimized through the collection and analysis of data. E-commerce sites crunch information on customer purchasing behavior to better predict future demand.
The time it takes each product to move through a specific distribution center is meticulously tracked to calculate efficiency. Inventory is measured down to the item, to stay on top of turnover rates.
I say just about every aspect of the operation is data-driven, because there is one area in which most businesses have generally failed to modernize: workplace safety training.
Keeping employees healthy and on the floor is critical to maintaining and improving macro-objective metrics such as cash-to-cash time and perfect order index. Yet most warehousing and distribution centers still rely on outdated, manual ergonomic inspections to keep frontline workers safe.
Fortunately, new technology is allowing businesses to monitor employee movements, personalize their safety training and keep them healthy and happy.
Traditional Ergonomic Studies Won’t Cut it Anymore
Injuries to workers — particularly experienced workers — can create bottlenecks that cost businesses time and money.
Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) and other injuries caused by repetitive movements are of particular concern. MSD injuries account for nearly one third of all workers compensation costs and keep an employee off the job for an average of 12 days. Preventing these injuries proves particularly difficult, as even minor deviations from proper form can compound over time.
Traditional ergonomic studies require point-in-time, manual assessments of facilities and workers. They can take weeks to organize, and even longer for findings to be delivered and recommended actions implemented.
The lag time between assessment and action can be months — during which time any number of variables can shift and render the action inconsequential.
Timeliness and visibility are critical in any supply chain operation. You need to know the location and status of every specific product at any given time — and you need to be able to aggregate and segment that information across different areas of the operation to understand the health of the entire system.
So why should the health and safety of your workforce be treated any differently?
That’s Where New Technology Comes in
Let’s start with the first step in any data analysis: collection. Wearable technology can measure nuanced movements by an employee without infringing on those movements, or, more generally, their ability to work productively.
Tech-enabled hand wraps, for example, can measure the degree to which an employee flexes their wrist or the frequency at which they move their hand in a specific direction. That data can, in turn, be analyzed by AI systems to immediately identify risky movements that are likely to lead to injury.
This granular data gives businesses immediate and expansive visibility of risk factors across the entire workforce. Reports can be run to identify specific centers, departments, teams or even individual employees who may be at risk of injury. Rather than wait weeks or months for a point-in-time ergonomic study, businesses can move immediately to administer additional training to correct the movement. That can make all of the difference in preventing an injury for an at-risk employee working with incorrect form.
This also becomes a powerful system for measuring and optimizing the effectiveness of training programs. If a set of workers quickly relapses to incorrect form in the weeks following a targeted training, safety teams can evaluate the training program and update it accordingly. They may even run A/B tests on different segments of employees to better understand the effectiveness of specific training techniques and procedures.
Healthy Workers Keep Operations Running Smoothly
An increased rate of risky hand movements at a specific warehouse can be addressed with targeted training before it leads to injuries that might otherwise cause a disruption. The impacts of a new on-boarding program can be measured precisely in a test segment before it is phased in across the entire company. Movement data can be used to project injury rates among temporary workers, and aid hiring.
In short, supply chain leaders can measure, analyze and segment data across the workforce as they would any other aspect of the operation.
Just as importantly, improvements in workplace safety can have a significant impact on recruitment and retention. Workers recognize when their company is investing in their safety. Bringing in the technology to do so sends a clear message that an employer cares about the health and well-being of its employees.
Wearable technology paired with machine learning and cutting-edge data analysis systems is the key to keeping workers safe and happy and supply chain operations on track.
Sean Sweeney is VP & GM at Ansell Inteliforz & Mechanical Safety Solutions.
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