If you've read any of my recent blog or LinkedIn posts, you'll know I'm a HUGE fan of ai-driven ergonomics. It's more accurate and cost-effective than the previous systems.
BUT…some companies don't realize the full benefit. I'll outline some reasons for that below.
But first, let's define what I mean by ai-driven ergonomics – so that we're all on the same page.
Introduction to AI-Driven Ergonomics
At the fundamental level, ai-driven ergonomics usually involves a camera-enabled cell phone or tablet and some software. After you take a video of the potentially hazardous work task, upload it into the software. The software tracks body limb segments and calculates joint angles (all without any markers on the body).
Most of these software programs (and there are many of them available) base their calculations on the Rapid Entire Body Assessment (REBA) or the Rapid Upper Limb Assessment (RULA) formulas for calculating an overall risk score for the task. These two assessments are the gold standard in ergonomics for calculating an overall risk score.
After the analysis (typically lasting less than 5 minutes), you will have an overall risk score for the task and individual risk scores for various limb segments. The limb segment scores help you focus your hazard reduction efforts.
The final step is synthesizing the software data, understanding the task being performed, and then making recommendations for hazard reduction. This last step is where expertise in ergonomic risks and countermeasures is critical…something the software cannot do for you.
How AI-Driven Ergonomics Work
ErgoScience has over 30 years of expertise in helping enterprise-level organizations create and strengthen their safety cultures using our proven research-based injury prevention programs. Some of these programs include pre-hire post-offer physical abilities testing; job demands analysis, and AI-powered computer vision ergonomic risk assessment and training. We understand the importance of a strong safety culture and have helped numerous organizations significantly reduce incident rates and operating costs.
Why AI-Driven Ergonomics Doesn't Create Maximum Benefit for Some Organizations
Sounds simple. What can go wrong?
In our experience, there are three main reasons why ai-driven ergonomics doesn't create maximum benefit for some organizations.
Lack of Expertise
It's one thing to upload the video to the software and calculate a risk score. With most programs, only a few minor manual inputs are necessary. But once you get the risk score, what recommendations will you make?
- Will you try to train workers in a different procedure or different body positioning? If so, what is the most effective way to teach them?
- Will you recommend different positioning of materials or supplies? A new racking system? Gravity flow or motorized conveyors?
- An overhead hoist?
- A two-person lift?
- Will you suggest a job rotation? Do you have enough job variability for that? Rotating someone from one shoulder-intensive job to another shoulder-intensive job won't help.
- More proactive equipment maintenance?
The great thing about ai-driven ergonomics is that you can make before and after assessments. If you cut the risk score in half, that's great…but will it be sustainable?
If all of your recommendations are contingent upon employees following a new procedure or using new equipment, will they be able to follow the new processes? If not, your recommendations won't be practical.
Knowing which recommendations work in a given situation dramatically depends on understanding the corporate safety culture. If an organization truly puts safety first, administrative or training solutions might be more effective. But your training and administrative solutions might not make much difference if productivity trumps everything else- even safety.
Some organizations expect their safety people or front-line supervisors or managers to become experts in ergonomics with a brief course of instruction. Others claim their insurance carriers have safety experts that will do their assessments for "free" (not really because the cost is built into their premium cost).
In our experience, these individuals are typically trained in some basic ergonomic concepts in a short course and equipped with the software. Still, they lack the proper expertise that comes with professionals who have extended training in human movement and biomechanics, such as physical and occupational therapists and ergonomists.
Some organizations have found success using a combination of internal associates for ai-augmented data collection, supplemented with consultants who review the videos and reports and collaborate with internal staff on recommendations.
Lack of Budget & C-Suite Support For Ergonomic Changes
AI-driven ergonomic assessments are great. But if there's no budget for training or making ergonomic changes, why do the evaluations in the first place? You need the resources to fix the problem.
Perhaps you'll use the data for the upcoming year's budget rationale or justification?
At any rate, the C-Suite has to be behind the project. And getting C-Suite buy-in can be challenging. They must see that the project will have a positive return on investment (ROI). Research at the Liberty Mutual Research Institute for Safety shows that $3-$6 is saved for every $ 1 invested in safety.
On average, employees who work in pain experience a 10% reduction in productivity if they are working in pain. If an employee earns $50,000/year, as much as $5,000 in salary per year might be lost to discomfort. Not to mention the lost revenue to decreased productivity.
How much more productive could your employees be if you could increase their comfort? How many individuals in your organization are working with pain or discomfort day in and day out?
When indirect and direct costs are considered, one lost-time musculoskeletal injury costs approximately $60,000-$80,000. How many of those injuries does your organization experience each year?
These figures and an estimated project cost can help determine the project's ROI. And targeting the jobs producing the most injuries can help you narrow the project scope so that your organization realizes the most benefit for the least expense.
Ensuring you can align your ergonomic project with one of your organization's strategic initiatives also helps justify the project in the eyes of your executives.
Employees Don't Embrace the Changes
One of the best ways to ensure that your ergonomic assessments and countermeasures won't lead to meaningful change is to fail to ask the employees for input. Employees who do the job day after day have ideas about making the job easier and more efficient. And your ergonomic changes need to be compatible with their ideas.
Every time I've walked into an organization, I'd had a nickel for every time I saw heavy material handling that equipment could minimize. And when I investigated further, I found they already had that equipment. But it was sitting in the corner collecting dust.
Why? Because no one consulted the employees, and for one reason or another, the equipment slowed them down or wasn't effective in reducing the load. If only they'd been consulted…
When videotaping hazardous tasks in the field, it's an excellent time to ask employees what they think. If you tell them you're trying to make their jobs easier and ask for their opinions, they'll likely share valuable information that can guide your recommendations. And their cooperation will be much better when it comes to implementation.
When it comes to ergonomic training, ai-assisted ergonomic assessments can show the difference in hazard scores before and after the recommendations are followed. The dramatic decrease in hazard scores motivates employees to adopt the new, more ergonomic work practice. As the old saying goes…a picture is worth a thousand words!
Success with AI-Assisted Ergonomics
Success with ai-assisted ergonomics hinges on getting three things right:
- The right level of expertise. Going it alone might not yield the result you desire.
- The proper support from your executives. Get them on board through ROI and strategic alignment.
- The excellent cooperation from your employees. Ask for their input.
If you would like more information on ai-augmented ergonomic analysis and recommendations, you can contact ErgoScience. [INSERT LINK to Meeting form?]