Wearables and Worker Safety

Safety 2.0

The next generation of connected safety wearables could mark a new era in workplace safety and insurance – but only if the data they produce is harnessed in the right way.
By: | May 24, 2016 • 5 min read

Their emergence has been hailed as a “game changer” and “the biggest discussion topic in insurance.” Inspired by developments in the consumer marketplace, connected personal protection equipment, or “wearables,” can track a variety of employee risk factors and generate data so powerful that many believe it will revolutionize workplace safety procedures and risk modeling.

Health-related wearables such as the FitBit are taking the consumer market by storm, but far more powerful technology is being developed and implemented in commercial settings, from heavy industry to aviation, logistics and manufacturing.

062016_08_Workers_Comp_sidebarMining giant Rio Tinto is an early adopter of wearables, providing its workers with a “SmartCap” that measures brainwaves to detect fatigue. Honeywell and Intel recently released a prototype of their “Connected Worker” solution for industrial workers and first responders, which uses a hub of sensors to track workers’ location, vital signs, motion and exposure to hazardous gases.

Whether in the form of vests, caps, glasses or materials, it is now possible to generate valuable data that brings risk managers and insurers closer to workplace risk than ever before. It is hoped these insights should in turn help safety supervisors improve workplace design and procedure, foster safer worker behaviors and reduce workers’ compensation claims.

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David Bassi, former head of innovation and risk consulting, casualty, AIG

Having observed several pilot studies closely, David Bassi, former head of innovation and risk consulting, casualty for AIG, said safety wearables could reduce losses by up to 50 percent in some situations.

“The test cases are so compelling, it’s just a matter of scalability,” he said.

“The explosion will come pretty quickly. Virtually everyone I know in a safety role at a big company is interested in participating in a pilot or thinking about how to incorporate this kind of technology into their workplace.”

With demand strong, supply growing and costs coming down, the final piece of the puzzle is the insurance market, which insureds hope will begin to offer responsive pricing, customized products and client incentives once wearables’ benefits begin to be realized.

“In an age when data is becoming ever more critical for the insurance industry, this is huge,” said Michael Sillat, CEO of WKFC Underwriting Managers (part of Ryan Specialty Group). “A lot of the technology being developed is only being spoken about and is not available in the marketplace, but it has certainly grabbed my attention and that of many of my peers,” he said.

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“Connected devices are going to have profound implications for the commercial property casualty insurance world, and wearables in particular are going to be very important in improving worker safety,” said Lex Baugh, president of casualty at AIG, which recently invested in wearable tech firm Human Condition Safety.

Nigel Walsh, vice president of CapGemini, expects more partnerships of this ilk, and heralds the ability to interact and advise on a daily, hourly or real-time basis as “game changing” for insurers.

“Insurers will no longer be claims paying companies — they will become better risk managers. When you provide value-added service and insight driven out of IoT, rather than just changing the price, you create real engagement and real value,” he said.

However, insurers don’t make knee-jerk adjustments to their terms or pricing, so for now organizations will need to take something of a leap of faith, and invest in wearables knowing it may take a number of years for improved loss experience to yield premium reductions.

Challenges

The costs associated with implementing wearables into the workplace vary hugely, from a few dollars for the most rudimentary device up to millions for enterprise solutions including real-time feedback loops, network operation centers and the latest wearable technology. While the cost of equipment and data capacity continues to slowly decline, companies will need to think carefully before investing.

062016_08_Workers_Comp_sidebar_w_phooRachel Michael, senior consultant in Aon Global Risk Consulting’s ergonomics practice group, said there are “no excuses” for not knowing the location and well-being of workers in hazardous jobs like firefighting or mining, for whom even expensive investments will be worthwhile, but she pointed out that companies should be sure they have done all they can to improve workplace ergonomics prior to investing.

“If an employer is palletizing 30-lb. boxes at ground level, do they really need a wearable spinal loading measurement system to determine whether this is bad?

You could save lots of time and money if you fix your line first,” she said.
Data management is also a concern — both in coping with the sheer volume of data (which Bassi said runs on some pilots into exabytes per week) and also avoiding what Michael terms “death by data” — having reams of information at your disposal but no clear plan of action.

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Rachel Michael, senior consultant, ergonomics practice group, Aon Global Risk Consulting

Before a wearable technology is even considered, Michael said a planning discussion including the risk manager, HR, IT and possibly several other departments must take place. “You need to understand how much and what type of data is to be collected, how it is to be used, and what changes can be driven with the outcomes,” she said.

And companies should be prepared in case data raises uncomfortable truths, she added.

“If you hook all your workers up to smart caps and find that they are all suffering fatigue, are you willing to shut down your operations?” Michael asked, noting that this would be all but impossible in industries such as health care, firefighting or aviation.

Wearables are faced with various other challenges — from unions raising objections over potential worker discomfort or invasion of privacy, to workers becoming over-reliant on or overconfident because of the technology, or even the potential health risks associated with prolonged proximity to sensors and WiFi.

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Then there are the questions around liability. If a worker with known heart issues has a heart attack on the job, could an employer tracking the vital signs be deemed negligent for not acting on warning signs? Would companies use wearables to offload responsibility for unsafe practices and workplace injury on their staff?

Ultimately, this highly promising technology should offer a win-win for insureds and insurers alike, but it can only be successful if the data is used effectively and risk managers enforce best practices through training, education and procedures.

“If all we do is sit back at the end of the week and look at the data, we’ve missed the opportunity,” said Michael.

Antony Ireland is a London-based financial journalist. He can be reached at [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

High Net Worth

High Net Worth Clients Live in CAT Zones. Here’s What Their Resiliency Plan Should Include

Having a resiliency plan and practicing it can make all the difference in a disaster.
By: | September 14, 2018 • 7 min read

Packed with state-of-the-art electronics, priceless collections and high-end furnishings, and situated in scenic, often remote locations, the dwellings of high net worth individuals and families pose particular challenges when it comes to disaster resiliency. But help is on the way.

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Armed with loss data, innovative new programs, technological advances, and a growing army of niche service-providers aimed at addressing an astonishingly diverse set of risks, insurers are increasingly determined to not just insure against their high net worth clients’ losses, but to prevent them.

Insurers have long been proactive in risk mitigation, but increasingly, after the recent surge in wildfire and storm losses, insureds are now, too.

“Before, insurance was considered the only step in risk management. Now, our client families realize it is one of the many imperative steps in an effective risk management strategy,” said Laura Sherman, founding partner at Baldwin Krystyn Sherman Partners.

And especially in the high net worth space, preventing that loss is vastly preferable to a payout, for insurers and insureds alike.

“If insurers can preserve even one house that’s 10 or 20 or 40 million dollars … whatever they have spent in a year is money well spent. Plus they’ve saved this important asset for the client,” said Bruce Gendelman, chairman and founder Bruce Gendelman Insurance Services.

High Net Worth Vulnerabilities

Laura Sherman, founding partner, Baldwin Krystyn Sherman Partners

As the number and size of luxury homes built in vulnerable areas has increased, so has the frequency and magnitude of extreme weather events, including hurricanes, harsh cold and winter storms, and wildfires.

“There is a growing desire to inhabit this riskier terrain,” said Jason Metzger, SVP Risk Management, PURE group of insurance companies. “In the western states alone, a little over a million homes are highly vulnerable to wildfires because of their proximity to forests that are fuller of fuel than they have been in years past.”

Such homes are often filled with expensive artwork and collections, from fine wine to rare books to couture to automobiles, each presenting unique challenges. The homes themselves present other vulnerabilities.

“Larger, more sophisticated homes are bristling with more technology than ever,” said Stephen Poux, SVP and head of Risk Management Services and Loss Prevention for AIG’s Private Client Group.

“A lightning strike can trash every electronic in the home.”

Niche Service Providers

A variety of niche service providers are stepping forward to help.

Secure facilities provide hurricane-proof, wildfire-proof off-site storage for artwork, antiques, and all manner of collectibles for seasonal or rotating storage, as well as ahead of impending disasters.

Other companies help manage such collections — a substantial challenge anytime, but especially during a crisis.

“Knowing where it is, is a huge part of mitigating the risk,” said Eric Kahan, founder of Collector Systems, a cloud-based collection management company that allows collectors to monitor their collections during loans to museums, transit between homes, or evacuation to secure storage.

“Before, insurance was considered the only step in risk management. Now, our client families realize it is one of the many imperative steps in an effective risk management strategy.” — Laura Sherman, founding partner, Baldwin Krystyn Sherman Partners

Insurers also employ specialists in-house. AIG employs four art curators who advise clients on how to protect and preserve their art collections.

Perhaps the best known and most striking example of this kind of direct insurer involvement are the fire teams insurers retain or employ to monitor fires and even spray retardant or water on threatened properties.

High-Level Service for High Net Worth

All high net worth carriers have programs that leverage expertise, loss data, and relationships with vendors to help clients avoid and recover from losses, employing the highest levels of customer service to accomplish this as unobtrusively as possible.

“What allows you to do your job best is when you develop that relationship with a client, where it’s the same people that are interacting with them on every front for their risk management,” said Steve Bitterman, chief risk services officer for Vault Insurance.

Site visits are an essential first step, allowing insurers to assess risks, make recommendations to reduce them, and establish plans in the event of a disaster.

“When you’re in a catastrophic situation, it’s high stress, time is of the essence, and people forget things,” said Sherman. “Having a written plan in place is paramount to success.”

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Another important component is knowing who will execute that plan in homes that are often unoccupied.

Domestic staff may lack the knowledge or authority to protect the homeowner’s assets, and during a disaster may be distracted dealing with threats to their own homes and families. Adequate planning includes ensuring that whoever is responsible has the training and authority to execute the plan.

Evaluating New Technology

Insurers use technologies like GPS and satellite imagery to determine which homes are directly threatened by storms or wildfires. They also assess and vet technologies that can be implemented by homeowners, from impact glass to alarm and monitoring systems, to more obscure but potentially more important options.

AIG’s Poux recommends two types of vents that mitigate important, and unexpected risks.

“There’s a fantastic technology called Smart Vent, which allows water to flow in and out of the foundation,” Poux said. “… The weight of water outside a foundation can push a foundation wall in. If you equalize that water inside and out at the same level, you negate that.”

Another wildfire risk — embers getting sucked into the attic — is, according to Poux, “typically the greatest cause of the destruction of homes.” But, he said, “Special ember-resisting venting, like Brandguard Vents, can remove that exposure altogether.”

Building Smart

Many disaster resiliency technologies can be applied at any time, but often the cost is fractional if implemented during initial construction. AIG’s Smart Build is a free program for new or remodeled homes that evolved out of AIG’s construction insurance programs.

Previously available only to homes valued at $5 million and up, Smart Build recently expanded to include homes of $1 million and up. Roughly 100 homes are enrolled, with an average value of $13 million.

“In the high net worth space, sometimes it takes longer potentially to recover, simply because there are limited contractors available to do specialty work.” — Curt Goetsch, head of underwriting, Private Client Group, Ironshore

“We know what goes wrong in high net worth homes,” said Poux, citing AIG’s decades of loss data.

“We’re incenting our client and by proxy their builder, their architects and their broker, to give us a seat at the design table. … That enables us to help tweak the architectural plans in ways that are very easy to do with a pencil, as opposed to after a home is built.”

Poux cites a remote ranch property in Texas.

Curt Goetsch, head of underwriting, Private Client Group, Ironshore

“The client was rebuilding a home but also installing new roads and grading and driveways. … The property was very far from the fire department and there wasn’t any available water on the property.”

Poux’s team was able to recommend underground water storage tanks, something that would have been prohibitively expensive after construction.

“But if the ground is open and you’ve got heavy equipment, it’s a relatively minor additional expense.”

Homes that graduate from the Smart Build program may be eligible for preferred pricing due to their added resilience, Poux said.

Recovery from Loss

A major component of disaster resiliency is still recovery from loss, and preparation is key to the prompt service expected by homeowners paying six- or seven-figure premiums.

Before Irma, PURE sent contact information for pre-assigned claim adjusters to insureds in the storm’s direct path.

“In the high net worth space, sometimes it takes longer potentially to recover, simply because there are limited contractors available to do specialty work,” said Curt Goetsch, head of underwriting for Ironshore’s Private Client Group.

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“If you’ve got custom construction or imported materials in your house, you’re not going to go down the street and just find somebody that can do that kind of work, or has those materials in stock.”

In the wake of disaster, even basic services can be scarce.

“Our claims and risk management departments have to work together in advance of the storm,” said Bitterman, “to have contractors and restoration companies and tarp and board services that are going to respond to our company’s clients, that will commit resources to us.”

And while local agents’ connections can be invaluable, Goetsch sees insurers taking more of that responsibility from the agent, to at least get the claim started.

“When there is a disaster, the agency’s staff may have to deal with personal losses,” Goetsch said. &

Jon McGoran is a novelist and magazine editor based outside of Philadelphia. He can be reached at [email protected]