The Era of the Industrial Athlete

As safety technology continues to evolve, data and analytics are increasingly becoming more important to understanding and preventing injuries.

February 5, 2020

Americans are increasingly reliant on data, and it shows.

Walking 10,000 steps will burn X amount of calories. The star pitcher on your favorite baseball team is on a 17-game winning streak that hasn’t been seen since X player accomplished the same a decade ago. Have you scanned that grocery store rewards card? It keeps track of what products you purchase, when you bought them and at what price you decided you would be willing to pay at that moment in time.

Data-driven decisions are fostering a digital transformation in the workplace led by wearables and other devices. Research firm CCS Insight demonstrates the value of data to global consumers in its 2018 wearables forecast. The firm calculates that the amount of devices sold on an annual basis will double to 233 million in 2022, up from around 117 million in 2018.

It’s no surprise that companies are utilizing wearables for collaboration and continuous improvement, whether it’s through adjusting process efficiency or reducing workplace injuries. The bottom line is that data-driven decisions are the norm for protecting an organization’s bottom line, meeting compliance with regulatory standards and demonstrating a positive workplace culture.

“We’re in an era where many businesses are mature and are at the pinnacle of their development,” says Mike Kim, StrongArm Technologies’ co-founder and CTO. “When it comes to modifying and changing these organizations and their processes or helping make life better for workers, there’s an incredible amount of data that can help.”

A Case for Wearables

An organization’s approach to workplace safety can be used as a measure of its operational and leadership capabilities, processes and values.

Kim corroborates, “Poor safety practices always make their way back to the consumer in some form. For example, a lower back injury on average costs $60K. For an organization that has several hundreds of these types of injuries within their workforce, the costs stack up quickly and ultimately impact consumers in the form of delayed fulfillment, reduced quality, and higher costs.”

Technological advancements such as wearables and software platforms have allowed safety professionals to leverage data for risk assessment on an individual basis, allowing them to not only remain in compliance and prevent injuries, but also to validate a tangible return on investment (ROI) to leadership.

“When it comes to worker safety, a lot of the injuries are preventable,” Kim explains. “The challenge is that these environments are very dynamic, changing every day down to the minute. As a result, there’s a lot of information and data.”

Industrial Athletes

A professional athlete is provided with a plethora of personal protective equipment (PPE) – top-of-the-line pads and helmets, specially-engineered shoes to break that marathon record, sleek suits for Olympic swimmers that cut back on drag.

Take the evolution of the football helmet, which first dates back to about 1893 and was originally constructed from moleskin and used in the first World War. Fast forward through several iterations of leather helmets, the first plastic helmet in 1939 and Paul Brown’s 1955 introduction of a single bar face mask to protect his star player to arrive at today’s modern helmet which includes high-tech padding, face shields and radio communication devices [1].

Much like professional sports, exoskeletons, sensors and other devices have given safety professionals new avenues of managing musculoskeletal risk through reducing workers’ repetitive motions and propensity for overexertion in physically-intensive roles. However, these advancements have yet to become as commonplace in the American workforce.

Enter the era of the industrial athlete.

“Since the advent of tech and data in most parts of our lives, the digital tools in sports have only gotten more sophisticated,” Kim says. “This is not the case for industries that employ manual laborers – people who are similar to sports athletes in that they are expected to perform their job with strength, agility and endurance. In order to signal the need to respect and protect these workers, people that are the backbone of our society, we use the term ‘industrial athletes.’”

With the FUSE platform, StrongArm Technologies hopes to establish the value of safety through technology.

FUSE is a lightweight, IoT-enabled risk-monitoring device that utilizes machine learning to capture and analyze the risk of musculoskeletal injuries. The captured data provides a “Safety Score” metric based on an algorithm designed to reduce ergonomic risk. This allows safety managers to provide feedback to workers such as coaching on proper movement methods, and it also authenticates efforts to leadership.

“Wearables and the data together, when used properly and responsibly, can help extend capabilities substantially – helping us do more, better,” Kim says. “We saw the dire need for data and real-time alerting against industrial hazards. Using this data, we saw the ability to provide feedback to the workers and to provide them coaching to enhance their safety and wellbeing. It’s the perfect example of technology being used to improve people’s lives.”

Proving the Need

Executive buy-in for wearables and new technologies, especially where safety is concerned, could prove difficult if the results are not immediately quantifiable. This buy-in process flows downstream to the worker to all stakeholders from facility leaders to supervisors, manager and finally to the worker.

“Having decisions made about your health without your input can be off-putting and even insulting, so transparency is key,” Kim describes. “Once employees are given all of the information and have the opportunity to ask questions, any suspicion fades into curiosity, which quickly evolves into enthusiasm once the personal benefits are made clear.”

The latest available estimates from the National Safety Council project the economic impact of workplace injuries to be $161.5 billion, with 104 million work days lost.

With American consumers becoming more reliant on e-commerce and the corresponding growth of distribution operations, this potentially could pave the way for a substantial rise in musculoskeletal injuries. Technology adaptation for workplace safety now is ever more crucial, and with that comes proving its worth.

“I think it just comes down to keeping an open mind to change and willingness to do things better. There’s a lot of parallels to other technologies that have changed things for organizations,” Kim says. “We can use wearables, safety data and analytics to transform how we engage with our workers, the equipment and environment around them. We can help create a culture where workers are aware and control their own safety, taking a big step toward an injury-free workplace.”



[1] Stamp, J. (2012, October) Leatherhead to Radio-head: The Evolution of the Football Helmet. Smithsonian Magazine. Retrieved from

By Stefanie Valentic | February 5, 2020