The ‘FUSE’ system consists of a small IoT sensor that’s clipped into a harness and worn by workers over the course of their shift.
The device monitors the workers’ muscle movements, including how far they bend, twist, and how quickly they rise.
If the device detects a movement that could be unsafe it vibrates to warn the wearer that they could be at risk of injury. It records data at around twelve and a half times per second and then creates an overall “safety score,” ranking a worker as a low, medium, or high injury risk.
The idea for FUSE came from Strongarm CEO Sean Patterson after his father, a construction worker, was killed in the workplace when Patterson was just 14.
“Way, way too many things that could have happened that could have avoided that, if people were just more aware,” he told Bloomberg.
Founded in 2012, Strongarm champions the term “industrial athlete” when referring to factory and warehouse workers.
In a demo video for the device, the companies COO Matt Norcia says that FUSE can give a worker a “dashboard of their performance and safety over time in the same way that a coach might help a professional athlete.”
He also said that “not only does the device identify when they’re doing something risky, we can use that data to evaluate the risks that they come in contact with and make smarter, more precise safety decisions.’
Strongarm says they have over 20 clients, including Walmart, Heineken, and Toyota and that 15,000 workers have worn its devices. They are aiming to have its devices used by 35,000 workers by the end of the year.
Safety or surveillance?
While the device may have been made to protect blue-collar workers, Bloomberg reports that “unions and researchers who study workplace surveillance worry that employers who begin gathering data on workers for whatever reason will be unable to resist using it against them.”
Productivity tracking is already rife in these industries and can see a worker promptly sacked if a dip in performance is identified.
Adam Kaszynski, a union rep for IUE-CWA 201 and former worker in a factory that used Strongarm devices, questioned in the Bloomberg report whether it’s even possible to separate safety from performance in the warehouse.
“When you work with your body, ergonomic data is productivity data,” he says. “They want to do more with less. They want workers to work faster, longer and increase production while mitigating workers comp claims. That’s, I mean, clearly what this is about.”
While StrongArm acknowledges the concerns around workplace surveillance, the company says its products are designed solely to improve safety and Patterson said he would object to the use of his technology to punish workers.
A recent study the company commissioned found that users wearing FUSE suffered 20% to 50% fewer injuries.
Looking to the future, Patterson also sees the increasing use of automation in warehouses as a worker safety issue. “When someone comes in and says, ‘We’re the automation consultants,’ we want to be able to point to the areas that just spike up as red on our map,” he says. “And we say, ‘This. This is the place.’”
Robert Scott Lazar