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9 Reasons You Should Consider Piloting Wearables Now to Help Improve Worker Safety

Industries with higher rates of soft tissue injury can help better protect workers with ergonomic sensors. A recent pilot program with five companies demonstrates compelling benefits.
By: | December 12, 2018 • 8 min read

In the future, industrial-grade wearables may become as prevalent on job sites as hard hats, neon vests, or other personal protective equipment. At one point we thought of seatbelts and airbags as “technological safety advancements.”  Now, we expect them.

Wearables come in many forms and perform many functions, but nearly all have demonstrated benefits for enhanced worker safety. “Today, there exists technology to track location, that allows communication with supervisors, and that measures biometric data like heart rate or environmental factors like temperature and air quality,” said Nick Conlon, Innovation & Sharing Economy Associate at AIG. “But, we’re focused on a subset of ergonomic sensors that track body movement, because that’s where it appears the greatest opportunity is to help prevent soft tissue injuries.”

After reviewing more than 65 industrial grade wearable devices and capabilities, AIG developed a shortlist of promising tech that it is actively bringing to customers in the form of pilot studies. So far, AIG has completed pilots with five clients across the construction, manufacturing and agriculture sectors, collecting more than 254,000 hours of data. The body-worn sensors in play can track 25 different data points every 80 milliseconds.

“Early results are positive,” Conlon said.

For example, during one 12-week pilot, workers saw an average of a 33 percent improvement in bending postures. The data identified a key process change that could help avoid unsafe bending. Another client saw a 58 percent improvement in body movement and fewer musculoskeletal injuries. It also identified a subset of workers whose safety scores remained low and who required extra training.

With more pilots in the pipeline, further evidence supporting wearables’ safety benefits is likely to come. “Combining wearable data with our expansive claims experience helps drive insights that companies or technology vendors can’t necessarily produce on their own. It’s all about partnership.” Conlon said.

Pilot results have resulted in nine key insights companies interested in the technology may want to consider:

1. Sensors can collect an enormous amount of data without being worn continuously over long periods of time.

Nick Conlon, Innovation & Sharing Economy Associate at AIG

There is a misconception that wearables must be worn continuously in order for the data gathered to be useful. But that’s not always the case.

“There is a category of devices more diagnostic in nature that can be worn over a period as short as eight weeks,” Conlon said. Unlike wearables designed to track location or act as communication devices, diagnostic wearables aim to identify a specific problem within a finite period of time, such as work process that forces less ergonomic movements. Wearables can help isolate processes or movements that can be unsafe well before they are likely to result in an injury to workers.

2. The data collected can help identify otherwise normal workflow processes that are causing injury and should be changed.

Wearables are about more than worker behavior. They can also identify workflow processes that may be contributing to recurring injuries in the workforce.

“During a pilot, one client noticed that workers were consistently exhibiting bad bending behavior, even after wearing a device for weeks that would send an alert every time they used poor movement,” Conlon said. “When we examined their work processes, our client discovered that the problem wasn’t the workers themselves, or the process – it was actually a serial number that was printed too small. The workers had to bend over to read the small print over and over again throughout the day.”

As a result, the company made a process change and had the serial numbers printed larger, so workers could eliminate that potentially injurious movement altogether.

3. Once you know what activities are driving injuries, you can better allocate resources for more focused safety related trainings or encouragement of process changes.

In most cases, wearables that send constant reminders to workers help encourage better lifting form or more correct posture do tend to produce sustained improvements. Nevertheless, there will likely be a small subset of workers who may need more intensive coaching or training to help them address lifting form or potentially unsafe movements.

“Wearables can help identify on a more granular level where to allocate training and related resources,” Conlon said. “That way, instead of providing full retraining to your entire staff, you can focus on any additional training efforts on workers, if any, for whom it seems a higher level of emphasis may be warranted.”

4. Wearing a device can motivate workers to correct poor movements.

It’s called the Hawthorne Effect — people will pay more attention to their behavior when they know they are being monitored. Wearing a device makes workers hyperaware of harmful movements, which naturally drives an effort to improve.

“At the end of the day, behavior change is the primary goal, whether that’s accomplished through coaching or a process change, or assisted through technology to help remind people to do something different,” Conlon said.

5. The ability to track behavior changes that may suggest fatigue lets you know when it’s time to rotate workers or make micro-adjustments to shift changes.

Working in manufacturing, construction or agriculture often demands repetitive motions.

“Imagine hammering, riveting or picking crops all day. Performing those movements properly is essential to the longevity of the worker,” Conlon said. If a wearable detects that a worker’s body mechanics decline sharply after three hours of work, it can highlight a need to shift workers to different tasks at certain times to reduce fatigue.

“Depending on how the pilot is set up, and we’re very flexible to tailor a program that works best for the client and the workers, data collected from wearables can be made available to direct supervisors. Many supervisors are empowered to make changes in rotations and scheduling that help minimize the risk of injury,” Conlon said. “Fundamentally, this puts the power of risk management in the hands of an operations executive who may not think of risk as often, but is an important by-product of these pilots.”

6. Identifying poor ergonomics can indicate an injury and allow for earlier intervention.

Evidence shows that soft-tissue injuries tend to develop over time, and workers can easily dismiss a dull ache or pain as an inconsequential issue not worth reporting or treating.

“Most people are inclined to wait and see if the discomfort will get better on its own after a few days before going to a doctor,” Conlon said. “But when the pain doesn’t subside, they begin overcompensating with other body parts, and that often leads to more injury.”

These behavioral changes should raise a red flag and provide cause for intervention. Having wearables that can detect these changes helps give risk managers an opportunity to step in and assist a worker with addressing his or her injury before things potentially get worse.

 7. Location tracking capability means you can get to injured workers more quickly.

Data shows that working alone or in a remote area of a site can expose a worker to greater safety risk. If a fall or some other injury occurs, it could potentially take hours for anyone to know about it.

“A wearable that detects a fall or a complete lack of motion for a period of time can send out an alert, enabling help to get to that worker more quickly,” Conlon said.

8. Data from wearables can be used to understand the behaviors of safe and injury-free workers from whom others can learn.

Wearables can help identify the workers with the safest behavior as easily as those potentially in need of extra training. Using the behaviors of these workers as a model can help risk managers devise training procedures and a set of best practices.

“Pilots can take many forms. For example, let’s not just focus on the workers getting injured. Let’s look at the ones who’ve spent years on the job without a single injury. What are they doing differently? Are there insights we can glean from them to educate other workers?” Conlon said.

 9. Gamifying measurable outcomes can help motivate workers to move more safely more often.

The concrete data gathered from wearables offers an opportunity to turn safety into a tangible pursuit.

“One of our clients piloted a wearable technology that pulled several data points together to create a ‘safety score’ on a scale of 0 to 100. It’s a simplified barometer for how well you’re performing safety-wise, and it allows workers to see how they stack up against their colleagues and track their own improvement,” Conlon said. Companies may also offer incentives like gift cards or other prizes for workers with the highest scores.

“Turning it into a game or competition can help motivate workers to practice and even compete for better ergonomics,” Conlon said.

Innovation in Insurance Matters

Better ergonomics can help translate into fewer missed days of work and reduced workers’ compensation insurance costs for employers in sectors where soft tissue injuries are prevalent. AIG’s approach to innovation is guided by a mission to find solutions to its clients’ most ubiquitous problems.

As such, innovation also plays an integral role in underwriting. Emerging technologies inevitably shift risk profiles and business models, and a best-in-class insurer must not only adapt, but also stay ahead of the curve.

“We’re always looking for opportunities to partner with clients and others like startups that provide data relevant to underwriting, pricing, and risk selection,” Conlon said. “By bringing our own data and expertise to the table, we can help facilitate our clients’ efforts to test out new tech and find better ways to do business. Wearables are just one example.”

To learn more, please visit: https://www.aig.com/innovative-tech.

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This article was produced by the R&I Brand Studio, a unit of the advertising department of Risk & Insurance, in collaboration with AIG. The editorial staff of Risk & Insurance had no role in its preparation.

 

American International Group, Inc. (AIG) is a leading global insurance organization. Founded in 1919, today AIG member companies provide a wide range of property casualty insurance, life insurance, retirement products, and other financial services to customers in more than 80 countries and jurisdictions. These diverse offerings include products and services that help businesses and individuals protect their assets, manage risks and provide for retirement security. AIG common stock is listed on the New York Stock Exchange and the Tokyo Stock Exchange.

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More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

Exclusive | Hank Greenberg on China Trade, Starr’s Rapid Growth and 100th, Spitzer, Schneiderman and More

In a robust and frank conversation, the insurance legend provides unique insights into global trade, his past battles and what the future holds for the industry and his company.
By: | October 12, 2018 • 12 min read

In 1960, Maurice “Hank” Greenberg was hired as a vice president of C.V. Starr & Co. At age 35, he had already accomplished a great deal.

He served his country as part of the Allied Forces that stormed the beaches at Normandy and liberated the Nazi death camps. He fought again during the Korean War, earning a Bronze Star. He held a law degree from New York Law School.

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Now he was ready to make his mark on the business world.

Even C.V. Starr himself — who hired Mr. Greenberg and later hand-picked him as the successor to the company he founded in Shanghai in 1919 — could not have imagined what a mark it would be.

Mr. Greenberg began to build AIG as a Starr subsidiary, then in 1969, he took it public. The company would, at its peak, achieve a market cap of some $180 billion and cement its place as the largest insurance and financial services company in history.

This month, Mr. Greenberg travels to China to celebrate the 100th anniversary of C.V. Starr & Co. That visit occurs at a prickly time in U.S.-Sino relations, as the Trump administration levies tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars in Chinese goods and China retaliates.

In September, Risk & Insurance® sat down with Mr. Greenberg in his Park Avenue office to hear his thoughts on the centennial of C.V. Starr, the dynamics of U.S. trade relationships with China and the future of the U.S. insurance industry as it faces the challenges of technology development and talent recruitment and retention, among many others. What follows is an edited transcript of that discussion.


R&I: One hundred years is quite an impressive milestone for any company. Celebrating the anniversary in China signifies the importance and longevity of that relationship. Can you tell us more about C.V. Starr’s history with China?

Hank Greenberg: We have a long history in China. I first went there in 1975. There was little there, but I had business throughout Asia, and I stopped there all the time. I’d stop there a couple of times a year and build relationships.

When I first started visiting China, there was only one state-owned insurance company there, PICC (the People’s Insurance Company of China); it was tiny at the time. We helped them to grow.

I also received the first foreign life insurance license in China, for AIA (The American International Assurance Co.). To date, there has been no other foreign life insurance company in China. It took me 20 years of hard work to get that license.

We also introduced an agency system in China. They had none. Their life company employees would get a salary whether they sold something or not. With the agency system of course you get paid a commission if you sell something. Once that agency system was installed, it went on to create more than a million jobs.

R&I: So Starr’s success has meant success for the Chinese insurance industry as well.

Hank Greenberg: That’s partly why we’re going to be celebrating that anniversary there next month. That celebration will occur alongside that of IBLAC (International Business Leaders’ Advisory Council), an international business advisory group that was put together when Zhu Rongji was the mayor of Shanghai [Zhu is since retired from public life]. He asked me to start that to attract foreign companies to invest in Shanghai.

“It turns out that it is harder [for China] to change, because they have one leader. My guess is that we’ll work it out sooner or later. Trump and Xi have to meet. That will result in some agreement that will get to them and they will have to finish the rest of the negotiations. I believe that will happen.” — Maurice “Hank” Greenberg, chairman and CEO, C.V. Starr & Co. Inc.

Shanghai and China in general were just coming out of the doldrums then; there was a lack of foreign investment. Zhu asked me to chair IBLAC and to help get it started, which I did. I served as chairman of that group for a couple of terms. I am still a part of that board, and it will be celebrating its 30th anniversary along with our 100th anniversary.

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We have a good relationship with China, and we’re candid as you can tell from the op-ed I published in the Wall Street Journal. I’m told that my op-ed was received quite well in China, by both Chinese companies and foreign companies doing business there.

On August 29, Mr. Greenberg published an opinion piece in the WSJ reminding Chinese leaders of the productive history of U.S.-Sino relations and suggesting that Chinese leaders take pragmatic steps to ease trade tensions with the U.S.

R&I: What’s your outlook on current trade relations between the U.S. and China?

Hank Greenberg: As to the current environment, when you are in negotiations, every leader negotiates differently.

President Trump is negotiating based on his well-known approach. What’s different now is that President Xi (Jinping, General Secretary of the Communist Party of China) made himself the emperor. All the past presidents in China before the revolution had two terms. He’s there for life, which makes things much more difficult.

R&I: Sure does. You’ve got a one- or two-term president talking to somebody who can wait it out. It’s definitely unique.

Hank Greenberg: So, clearly a lot of change is going on in China. Some of it is good. But as I said in the op-ed, China needs to be treated like the second largest economy in the world, which it is. And it will be the number one economy in the world in not too many years. That means that you can’t use the same terms of trade that you did 25 or 30 years ago.

They want to have access to our market and other markets. Fine, but you have to have reciprocity, and they have not been very good at that.

R&I: What stands in the way of that happening?

Hank Greenberg: I think there are several substantial challenges. One, their structure makes it very difficult. They have a senior official, a regulator, who runs a division within the government for insurance. He keeps that job as long as he does what leadership wants him to do. He may not be sure what they want him to do.

For example, the president made a speech many months ago saying they are going to open up banking, insurance and a couple of additional sectors to foreign investment; nothing happened.

The reason was that the head of that division got changed. A new administrator came in who was not sure what the president wanted so he did nothing. Time went on and the international community said, “Wait a minute, you promised that you were going to do that and you didn’t do that.”

So the structure is such that it is very difficult. China can’t react as fast as it should. That will change, but it is going to take time.

R&I: That’s interesting, because during the financial crisis in 2008 there was talk that China, given their more centralized authority, could react more quickly, not less quickly.

Hank Greenberg: It turns out that it is harder to change, because they have one leader. My guess is that we’ll work it out sooner or later. Trump and Xi have to meet. That will result in some agreement that will get to them and they will have to finish the rest of the negotiations. I believe that will happen.

R&I: Obviously, you have a very unique perspective and experience in China. For American companies coming to China, what are some of the current challenges?

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Hank Greenberg: Well, they very much want to do business in China. That’s due to the sheer size of the country, at 1.4 billion people. It’s a very big market and not just for insurance companies. It’s a whole range of companies that would like to have access to China as easily as Chinese companies have access to the United States. As I said previously, that has to be resolved.

It’s not going to be easy, because China has a history of not being treated well by other countries. The U.S. has been pretty good in that way. We haven’t taken advantage of China.

R&I: Your op-ed was very enlightening on that topic.

Hank Greenberg: President Xi wants to rebuild the “middle kingdom,” to what China was, a great country. Part of that was his takeover of the South China Sea rock islands during the Obama Administration; we did nothing. It’s a little late now to try and do something. They promised they would never militarize those islands. Then they did. That’s a real problem in Southern Asia. The other countries in that region are not happy about that.

R&I: One thing that has differentiated your company is that it is not a public company, and it is not a mutual company. We think you’re the only large insurance company with that structure at that scale. What advantages does that give you?

Hank Greenberg: Two things. First of all, we’re more than an insurance company. We have the traditional investment unit with the insurance company. Then we have a separate investment unit that we started, which is very successful. So we have a source of income that is diverse. We don’t have to underwrite business that is going to lose a lot of money. Not knowingly anyway.

R&I: And that’s because you are a private company?

Hank Greenberg: Yes. We attract a different type of person in a private company.

R&I: Do you think that enables you to react more quickly?

Hank Greenberg: Absolutely. When we left AIG there were three of us. Myself, Howie Smith and Ed Matthews. Howie used to run the internal financials and Ed Matthews was the investment guy coming out of Morgan Stanley when I was putting AIG together. We started with three people and now we have 3,500 and growing.

“I think technology can play a role in reducing operating expenses. In the last 70 years, you have seen the expense ratio of the industry rise, and I’m not sure the industry can afford a 35 percent expense ratio. But while technology can help, some additional fundamental changes will also be required.” — Maurice “Hank” Greenberg, chairman and CEO, C.V. Starr & Co. Inc.

R&I:  You being forced to leave AIG in 2005 really was an injustice, by the way. AIG wouldn’t have been in the position it was in 2008 if you had still been there.

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Hank Greenberg: Absolutely not. We had all the right things in place. We met with the financial services division once a day every day to make sure they stuck to what they were supposed to do. Even Hank Paulson, the Secretary of Treasury, sat on the stand during my trial and said that if I’d been at the company, it would not have imploded the way it did.

R&I: And that fateful decision the AIG board made really affected the course of the country.

Hank Greenberg: So many people lost all of their net worth. The new management was taking on billions of dollars’ worth of risk with no collateral. They had decimated the internal risk management controls. And the government takeover of the company when the financial crisis blew up was grossly unfair.

From the time it went public, AIG’s value had increased from $300 million to $180 billion. Thanks to Eliot Spitzer, it’s now worth a fraction of that. His was a gross misuse of the Martin Act. It gives the Attorney General the power to investigate without probable cause and bring fraud charges without having to prove intent. Only in New York does the law grant the AG that much power.

R&I: It’s especially frustrating when you consider the quality of his own character, and the scandal he was involved in.

In early 2008, Spitzer was caught on a federal wiretap arranging a meeting with a prostitute at a Washington Hotel and resigned shortly thereafter.

Hank Greenberg: Yes. And it’s been successive. Look at Eric Schneiderman. He resigned earlier this year when it came out that he had abused several women. And this was after he came out so strongly against other men accused of the same thing. To me it demonstrates hypocrisy and abuse of power.

Schneiderman followed in Spitzer’s footsteps in leveraging the Martin Act against numerous corporations to generate multi-billion dollar settlements.

R&I: Starr, however, continues to thrive. You said you’re at 3,500 people and still growing. As you continue to expand, how do you deal with the challenge of attracting talent?

Hank Greenberg: We did something last week.

On September 16th, St. John’s University announced the largest gift in its 148-year history. The Starr Foundation donated $15 million to the school, establishing the Maurice R. Greenberg Leadership Initiative at St. John’s School of Risk Management, Insurance and Actuarial Science.

Hank Greenberg: We have recruited from St. John’s for many, many years. These are young people who want to be in the insurance industry. They don’t get into it by accident. They study to become proficient in this and we have recruited some very qualified individuals from that school. But we also recruit from many other universities. On the investment side, outside of the insurance industry, we also recruit from Wall Street.

R&I: We’re very interested in how you and other leaders in this industry view technology and how they’re going to use it.

Hank Greenberg: I think technology can play a role in reducing operating expenses. In the last 70 years, you have seen the expense ratio of the industry rise, and I’m not sure the industry can afford a 35 percent expense ratio. But while technology can help, some additional fundamental changes will also be required.

R&I: So as the pre-eminent leader of the insurance industry, what do you see in terms of where insurance is now an where it’s going?

Hank Greenberg: The country and the world will always need insurance. That doesn’t mean that what we have today is what we’re going to have 25 years from now.

How quickly the change comes and how far it will go will depend on individual companies and individual countries. Some will be more brave than others. But change will take place, there is no doubt about it.

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More will go on in space, there is no question about that. We’re involved in it right now as an insurance company, and it will get broader.

One of the things you have to worry about is it’s now a nuclear world. It’s a more dangerous world. And again, we have to find some way to deal with that.

So, change is inevitable. You need people who can deal with change.

R&I:  Is there anything else, Mr. Greenberg, you want to comment on?

Hank Greenberg: I think I’ve covered it. &

The R&I Editorial Team can be reached at [email protected]