According to a new white paper from StrongArm Technologies and Intelex, industrial workers are starting to reap the benefits of wearable technology and the Big Data analytics that these devices generate. “The Ergo-Skeletons Are Coming!” starts by pointing out that our workforce is getting older, as workers live and work longer than in the past. In 2014, 23% of men and 15% of women over the age of 65 continued to work. This alone poses an increased risk in musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) caused by workplace activity. In turn, this can have a negative impact on a business, through losses due to injuries, lower employee morale, reduced product quality, and decreased productivity.

Wearable devices such as passive or active exoskeletons can help increase worker safety when performing potentially risky motions such as lifting heavy objects. These devices can help train and remind them to follow recommended practices, and can even augment their own muscles and bones to handle repeated tasks without injury. For example, StrongArm has an ErgoSkeleton product that reduces lifting forces from the worker’s hands, arms, and lower back, and redistributes them to legs and core muscle groups. The result is less fatigue and fewer injuries.

Wearable sensors can monitor worker activities and help make the reporting of MSD injuries more accurate (which are notoriously undercounted, according to the report). These can also help track “near miss” events that can provide a better risk assessment for the work environment. Automated data collection and analysis helps companies plan ergonomic improvements, implement them, and then track the results to help refine the next round of improvements. The systems can even provide real-time feedback to workers to reinforce safety training and procedures. With lift-related injuries costing U.S. companies $15 billion a year in direct costs (and as much as $41 billion more in indirect costs), investment in ergonomic wearable devices could have a major payoff for employers and their workers.