INDUSTRY CASE STUDY | Grocery, Transportation, Distribution
MISSION TYPE: Conceptual
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, overexertion involving outside sources was ranked first among the leading causes of disabling injuries. These include injuries related to lifting, pushing, pulling, holding, carrying, or throwing. These types of injuries cost businesses $14.2 billion. They account for more than 25% of the overall national burden. The injuries cause billions of dollars in lost time, medical and insurance costs, and workers compensation claims, in addition to the pain and suffering borne by the workers.
Preventing this type of injury is a significant workplace safety challenge that has dogged organizations for years. The injuries occur across a multitude of industries including transportation, distribution, construction, mining, healthcare, food service, hospitality, grocery, retail, and others. A Bureau of Labor Statistics survey showed that four out of five injuries were to the lower back. Three out of four occurred while the worker was lifting. Unfortunately, the market lacks any significant strides in reducing back injury rates, aside from worker awareness, training programs, and improved job ergonomics.
We were asked by a number of leaders within the grocery and distribution industries to develop innovative, conceptual solutions to assist them in lowering the incident rate of back injuries and to help them maintain and improve the health of their workforce.
Develop a simple, yet effective, approach to minimizing back injuries, taking into account the diverse nature of the workplace and the many language barriers that exist among workers and management.
With a good understanding of what the market was both encountering and lacking, the brainstorming and ideation phase focused on determining specifically what the range of potential end users needed and could easily implement. These end users worked in many different environments ranging from those that offered substantial employee training and ergonomic tools, to those that gave little thought to training and ergonomics. Feedback and brainstorming sessions provided a huge reservoir of ideas. Some were feasible, others were not. Within a few weeks, final conceptual product designs and visual identities were established, focusing on what the end users and their organizations really could use and needed. It was determined the most promising concepts focused on the development of a warning device that would alert a worker, in real time, when they placed their body in a hazardous position and before an injury could potentially occur.
The final solution was the development of a personal warning device dubbed the “Alert Badger.” It was simple to use, lightweight and effective. The Badger is worn by employees during work hours. Contained within the badge is an inclinometer, also called a “tilt transducer,” designed to provide horizontal angle and vertical deviation measurements. A tilt transducer responds to very small changes of slope. It puts out a signal that reflects a change in the tilt range the transducer is exposed to. A worker bending over within a lifting danger zone would activate the transducer, thus resulting in a signal. The signal would trigger a very small audio alert system in the badge, which in turn warns the worker, in real time, that they are in the lifting danger zone. The worker would then make an adjustment to their position that is healthier and within a less dangerous zone in order to safely continue with their lift.
In addition to a full pilot test campaign, the Alert Badger Design refinement and engineering project is in the works, along with a path to commercial roll-out.