The Loop

Why Offer Wearables To Your Workforce?

Filed under: Benefits

A recent trend in commercial workplace technologies is employers offering wearable devices to workers in order to monitor and manage occupational risks, track health conditions, and help prevent injuries and accidents.

For example, some plan sponsors have offered a smartwatch benefit for years. This encourages workers to focus on exercise goals in ways like tracking daily steps and vital signs, and even host intra-company competitions between coworkers and departments. The ultimate goal is to help workers make informed choices about their lifestyle and promote increased wellbeing by monitoring their exercise and nutrition.


Some health plans are driving the wearables trend in exchange for valuable population data. United Healthcare has offered an annual stipend of up to $1,000 for select employers and fully- insured clients in return for specific data elements such as steps, sleep, and success achieving personal goals (e.g., 30 minutes of daily exercise).

Employers also can leverage mobile health apps and smartwatches as part of an incentive program to reward workers who adopt healthier habits. While some program goals may promote additional activity and weight loss, others may focus on reducing sedentary time and maintaining a healthy weight. Wearables can be paired with other incentives such as reduced insurance premiums, bonuses, or other wellness-related products, services, and discounts.

Cost Savings from Early Detection

Many of us live by the ethos, “If it ain’t broke – don’t fix it”. This not only applies to possessions, but also, our health. Unfortunately, we may not always have noticeable symptoms of a health condition until it has advanced considerably. By utilizing proactive self-monitoring technology, workers can identify potential health concerns and seek preventative care before they become more serious and costly issues. In fact, the total cost of care savings for early condition detection can be considerable. Examples of these cost savings are more than $10,000 a year for atrial fibrillation (AFib) and more than $2,000 for diabetes, hypertension, and sleep apnea.

Today’s wearables offer a wide range of detection provisions. In fact, the data from a standard smartwatch can signal metabolic conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and AFib. With early detection of such serious and chronic conditions, workers are more likely to adopt lifestyle changes that they wouldn’t otherwise without this data. In addition, the ability to self-monitor continuous data empowers workers to make changes to their employer health plan, such as adding or utilizing a benefit package option, or making changes to coverage of a spouse or dependent under another employer plan.

  • Wearables designed to enhance worker safety not only help prevent job-site injuries but can reduce workers’ compensation claims. The following are examples of wearable devices employers can make available to their workforce: 
  • Smartwatches can track various health metrics such as heart rate, sleep patterns, and physical activity levels.
  • Smart patches can monitor health indicators such as heart rate variability, blood pressure, and posture (particularly useful for warehouses and construction sites).
  • Smart goggles constantly scan the environment and build a 3-D representation overlay to help detect safety risks and aid in decision-making.
  • Smart helmets and full-body suits track vital stats on workers’ physical condition when engaged in high-risk activities, including wakefulness/drowsiness.
  • Jackets that alert workers to harmful toxins and decibel levels.
  • Sensor uniforms and belt-mounted devices are used to train workers on proper ergonomic techniques; they provide immediate feedback on how to modify movements.
  • Posture-based wearables have shown to effectively change posture and help provide back pain relief.
  • Sensor-embedded shoes that can detect if a worker is carrying a dangerously heavy load – and alert other workers to come to their aid.
  • Mobile health apps offer pre-diagnostic technology to accurately inform users of their risk levels for specific health conditions.
  • Some mobile health apps enable user data to be sent automatically (or when directed) to their physician or enable remote monitoring.

Reduce Insurance Premiums

Insurers are in the business of pushing preventive care initiatives, including wellness incentives to avert the development of diseases rather than treat them. For this reason, they are often willing to negotiate lower insurance premiums with plan sponsors, particularly fully- insured clients. A wellness program that offers wearable devices shows an employer’s dedication to workforce health and wellness by sharing data that demonstrates the breadth of downstream commitment of its workers. In turn, this can help strengthen these negotiations, leading to reduced insurance and overall healthcare costs.

Worker Safety

In 2021 alone, there were approximately 2.6 million nonfatal workplace injuries and illnesses, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Wearable technology offers tremendous potential to mitigate work injuries, increase productivity, and improve workers’ sense of safety and confidence. In addition to monitoring fatigue, body temperature, repetitive motion, and tracking worker movements in order to warn of potential safety hazards, employers can use the data gleaned by wearables to improve workforce training and ergonomics to further reduce the risk of injuries.

Some wearable technologies have been designed for specific industries. For example, the construction industry can now issue smart helmets and vests that alert workers of potential safety risks via vibration sensors that detect changes in their surroundings. In industries where workers handle hazardous materials, smartphone apps and wearables can detect when they may be exposed to dangerously high levels.

In the factory environment, there are wearables that sense when a worker is near heavy machinery (e.g., a forklift), where there is a greater risk of injury. By the same token, proximity sensors alert equipment operators when other workers are nearby.

Business Benefits

Wearables not only provide employers the opportunity to promote healthier behaviors among workers, but they can mitigate the potential for onsite injuries and exposure to hazardous situations. This offers the long-term benefit of reducing the risk of chronic diseases, and the short-term benefit of reducing the risk of injury — and even detecting early symptoms of a temporary illness so a worker can call in sick so as not to infect others. Ultimately, these proactive measures can yield lower healthcare costs, help ward off burnout, and nurture workers’ trust that their employer cares about their wellbeing.

While data from a wearables program is available to individual employers, it is difficult to extrapolate results across entire industries. However, the return on investment in individual case studies has been significant. For example:

  • One workers’ comp insurance company that offers wearable technologies reported a reduction in strain and sprain injuries by 55%, missed workdays by 72%, and overall claims costs by up to 50%.
  • Another business insurer reported that some of its clients that used wearables as part of a risk control program improved their workers’ compensation loss frequency between 40% and 80%.
  • A wearables manufacturer cited a reduction in workers’ comp claims frequency of 50% or more, and 90% in claims severity.
  • A study of a self-insured employer that deployed workforce health and fitness wearables over a two-year period yielded an average health savings of $1,292 among participating workers vs nonparticipants. The study noted that savings were highest among less active individuals compared to those who were more active ($3,543 vs $736).
  • Walmart reported a 65% reduction in ergonomic-related injuries in the first year at locations that rolled out the wearables program.

The key to a successful wearables program is to harness and analyze the data collected by the devices. While voluntary participation has demonstrated that wearables contribute to behavior changes that lead to better health outcomes, much is also revealed in larger trends pertaining to population health. Indeed, not only can offering wearable technology yield improved health at the individual worker level, but the insights provided can help employers develop stronger and more efficacious healthcare programs over the longer term.

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