Warehouses can be a dangerous place for workers, particularly when it comes to repetitive motion injuries. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2013 more than 100,000 workplace injuries were caused by lifting and lowering boxes and other objects. Haytham Elhawary, founder of technology company Kinetic, thinks he’s come up with a solution – a belt-worn device called REFLEX that detects unsafe postures and other conditions that could lead to injury. He spoke to Aftermarket Business World about the solution.
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Q. Where did the idea for REFLEX come from?
A. Two things. My mom is a nurse, so I grew up seeing her hurting her back most of her professional life. I’m an engineer, and I thought there must be way to build a device that can prevent that.
I also live in New York City, and I see people running in Central Park wearing heart rate monitors. You have all this technology for amateur athletes, but there’s nothing for industrial workers or construction workers. There’s very little technology to support them, and that imbalance didn’t make sense, given how cheap the technology is.
REFLEX includes the types of sensors that most wearables have. There’s an accelerometer, a gyroscope to measure angles, an air pressure sensor that measures height. It mostly focuses on improper biomechanics. If you bend excessively at the waist or twist your body or overreach, device detects that and gives you a real-time vibration. Workers start to correct themselves with that input.
Q. There’s also a gamification element, as well, correct?
A. When we started to deploy the unit, we found that younger workers, who are strong and feel like they are invincible, were less engaged. We thought if we could add a layer of competition, we could engage them to care more about safety. Right now the device quantifies how many of high-risk processes you engage in, gives you a daily goal, and compares that to your colleagues. Even if you’re not interested in safety, you can still beat your colleagues.
There’s also a central dashboard so managers can rank al workers and put up a leaderboard.
Q. Where has this been deployed?
A. We’ve focused on transportation and logistics. We’re working with e-commerce companies, people who do last-mile delivery. The other big industry is manufacturing.
Q. What types of results have you seen?
A. At the basic level, what we tend to see is if you wear this for a period of time, the number of high-risk motions you do goes down. The average reduction is about 55 percent. That’s the first step. We had one manufacturing client that created two groups, one group wearing the device and another that wasn’t wearing the device. The group not wearing the device had three injuries in 12 months, and the group wearing the device had zero injuries.
Q. How else can the device or the data be used?
A. In ergonomics, you first look at changing the design of the workplace, then changing behavior. Behavior is much harder to change than the workstation. That’s the first instinct most people have. If you have workers with a high number of risky postures and see little improvement over time with the device on, that tells you the risk is more in the job design than in the behavior of the worker. That scenario is perfect for engineering work design changes.
The nice thing about the device is that the sensors are generic. We can update the functionality of the unit over the air. We just released a feature to measure jumping off vehicles, which happens in last mile delivery. The driver jumps off the truck and rolls their ankle. We can detect that now. We can also detect a slip and fall. It’s all the same hardware, we just provide a software upgrade.
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