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Safety Podcast: Technology Trends in Safety

By Alliant Specialty

Tim Leech, John Owen, Brady Dunn and Kristi Loiselle, Alliant Safety and Loss Control, discuss the latest trends in safety technologies. Safety technologies continue to advance. Everything from wearable devices such as exoskeletons to chemical exposure monitoring. Knowing what's on the market and having a strategy in place for implementing new technologies into your safety program is becoming more important than ever. Tim Leech, John Owen, Brady Dunn and Kristi Loiselle, Alliant Safety and Loss Control, discuss the latest trends in safety technologies.

Kristi Loiselle (00:13):
Welcome. We want to thank you all for listening in to our podcast that is focused on technology trends and safety. I'm Kristi Loiselle with Alliant Risk Control Consulting. This is actually one of several presentations that Alliant is posting for National Safety Month. As you all know, technology continues to advance at a really fast pace and knowing what's on the market and having a strategy in place, implementing this technology into your overall safety program is really becoming more important than ever. So joining me today, we have three seasoned safety professionals, John Owen, Tim Leech and Brady Dunn. John is joining us from Northern California. So, John, I'll let you introduce yourself.

John Owen (00:55):
Hi, this is John Owen, I'm an Assistant Vice President and a lead risk control consultant for Alliant Risk Control Consulting. I have over 24 years of experience in safety consulting, operations, as well as account management. I've been with Alliant for approximately four years supporting our public entities, specialty and tribal first accounts. I'm a certified industrial hygienist as well as a certified safety professional.

Kristi Loiselle (01:17):
Tim joining us from Southern California, Tim provide a little background on yourself.

Tim Leech (01:22):
I've been with Alliant for about 11 years. I'm the Director of Risk Control Consulting, oversee a national practice and consultants that report to me. So, I lead a team or I’m a player-coach. So I'm working with clients as well. I've got about 30 years of experience in the industry. A lot of which has been primarily been in the insurance brokerage industry, but have private industry experience as well, certified safety professional, associates in risk management. And then I'm also an OSHA outsource trainer as well.

Kristi Loiselle (01:51):
Brady Dunn is joining us from the northwest team up in Oregon. Brady if you could fill us in on your background as well.

Brady Dunn (01:57):
I'm a Vice President and Regional Director for Alliant Specialty Risk Control Department and have been with Alliant for about three years now. I work mostly with our commercials insurance services vertical market but I also work with hospitality, real estate, aviation, agriculture and financial services. I have been in the industry for about 23 years.

Kristi Loiselle (02:20):
Thank you, gentlemen. Let's go ahead and get started. One of the areas of safety that's gained a lot of traction and the attention of the safety directors is the implementation of wearable devices. So, we're not talking about safety glasses or hearing protection, but devices that are designed to measure worker output or essentially to lower strain and repetitive injuries. Brady, I understand you have some experience with the exoskeletons. Can you fill us in on your opinion of these devices and do they help prevent injury?

Brady Dunn (02:55):
I have had quite a bit of experience with exoskeletons. We have clients that have used these devices and we've got clients that have evaluated them and have chosen to not use them. And I say that because they're not for everybody and they're not for every industry. Exoskeletons have been around for quite a few years, and they've really been gaining traction as of lately in the safety world. And they're really used in an effort to reduce lifting and repetitive motion injuries. They're really beneficial in areas like construction, manufacturing, we've seen them use our clients in the medical side to prevent patient lifting injuries and those types of strains. And they really got some really good popularity with companies like Ford, that used them several years ago and really was, I guess, the pilot for the use for them in manufacturing in general. Toyota, has implemented them on their production lines and then Boeing and the military also use exoskeletons. And if you look at the studies around those, they really had good results in reducing strain injuries and like I said, mostly on production lines.

Also, the use of devices has shown to improve productivity, which is always of interest to companies as they're looking at their production efforts in ways to improve production. Specifically talking about clients that I've seen use these devices. I've got an aircraft manufacturing client up in Idaho that makes a metal aircraft and everything in this aircraft is fastened by rivets. And so, as you can imagine, there are these large rivets guns that probably weigh between five and eight pounds, depending upon the size of the rivet that's being used. And these employees that are using the rivet gun are there for eight hours a day. And they're riveting these, these wings and whole assembly that are located in jigs. It's a very intricate process and it has to be done with some very fine detail. And so these devices they're using are heavy.

The employees have to get into awkward positions and these clients really have some significant exposures to strain injuries in the upper torso area, shoulders, neck, upper backs. And so, we've always looked for solutions to address those exposures. And the way that they really work is they provide a mechanical advantage that provides a lift support through an electronically controlled tension application. And that tension control can be adjusted for different range of motion. So, like in the case of Ford and Toyota, if you read some of those studies, the assembly lines, as they're working on chassis, they're using these devices overhead. And so they can adjust the mechanical advantage for anything shoulder level and above and for our client that we've had, it was really something that was specific to right at shoulder level one, a little bit below. So, the adjustability of these devices is pretty significant.

They can attach together. So, when you look at some of the companies that provide these, they have shoulder devices, some companies offer back devices because even companies that offer leg support. So if you're doing a lot of bending, picking up items off the floor there's devices that are specific for that type of an exposure. And what's neat about this industry is lately they've really been coming up with ways to attach them together. So, if I'm a production line employee and I've got shoulder exposures and back exposures, you can connect these devices so that you can wear them simultaneously. And it's really been a really significant improvement in the industry in general, and just how these devices can be used. I will say that they're not for everybody. There's still a long ways to go with the technology to make them smaller, to make them a little more adjustable.

We've had clients in the air med industry that have evaluated them for patient transfers inside of helicopters and fixed wing aircraft. And just due to the constraints that are in those areas of exoskeleton, while that technology would be very beneficial just given the size of the area that they work in, it just doesn't make sense to adopt that technology until we see those things get a little bit smaller and a little more adjustable. So, exoskeletons have been a good tool for some of our clients that have those exposures, and we really recommend them for that type of injury prevention.

Tim Leech (07:32):
Brady, one of the things I wanted to ask you about with regard to the exoskeletons, and sometimes when we implement new systems or procedures with regard to safety, you find a transference of injuries and other areas. Have you seen that with the use of exoskeletons where it's taken care of one issue but created another as a result of their use?

Brady Dunn (07:55):
In the clients that I've seen implement them, I haven't really seen that because it's specifically targeting an area that they're having significant challenges. And with my aviation client, they were really looking for a way to reduce those shoulder injuries. And so, the use of them mechanical advantage and the reducing the amount of weight that they have to hold as they're using those tools really has had a pretty significant impact, but I haven't seen that really transferred to other areas of risks. So luckily no, I haven't seen that exposure. One of the other areas that I wanted to mention was panic buttons. So we're shifting industry so to speak, and we're seeing a lot of different municipalities across the country. And you guys may have seen this, also being in California, but places like San Diego, Chicago, there's some areas outside of Chicago that have adopted this or require this same thing with Florida.

You have a significant exposure for housekeepers. And what they're trying to prevent with these panic buttons is sexual assault. A housekeeper goes into a room to clean, if there's somebody inside the room or shows up as the housekeeper is cleaning that room, there's a significant exposure and track record of sexual assault and sexual abuse for housekeepers. And so, this has been known in the industry for many years. About five or six years ago, there was companies that started really addressing this. And one of the items that came out of that was the use of panic buttons. Did these devices, hang on a lanyard, housekeepers can wear them. And if they get into a situation that they're not comfortable with, they can hit that button. And then based off of GPS tracking and alarming, that will send the notice to the front desk. That’ll send the notice to maybe a security person who's working on a site and they know that they can then respond to that area because they know where the housekeepers at because of the GPS and they can intervene, and they can solve that problem. As we see more municipalities require these it's a technology that's really taken off and really is becoming more widely used in areas even where it's not required. I've got a hotel client that has a property in Chicago and they implemented it in Chicago because of the mandate, but then they found how beneficial it was and they decided to implement it across all their hotel properties. So, it's something that I think is a new trend and is fairly new to that industry. But I believe over the next couple of years, we're really going to see that takeoff. And from a regulatory standpoint, it's going to get more prevalent, but then also companies are just going to do the right thing and really start protecting those employees from those types of exposures.

Those types of devices are very cool. And it's kind of a new thing that's happening in that industry. So, John, I understand your industrial hygiene background. I'm sure you've seen some wearable devices in your area as well. I don't know. Do you have any thoughts on wearables as it relates to industrial hygiene?

John Owen (11:03):
I mean, industrial hygiene is all about the recognition. Really the evaluation is a heavy emphasis in industrial hygiene, obviously have control of the workplace hazards. And in the area of evaluation, those of you that are familiar with employee exposure monitoring, it could be everything from noise to a chemical exposure. And we're sensor technology has really started to make huge strides is really because the technology itself has advanced dramatically, including the really what I would call connected devices. So now in the field, when it comes to evaluating and really getting both real time data that can be utilized to make actions in the field based upon an exposure an employee is having. You also have the ability to take that data and over time model and evaluate both the types of concentrations of exposure, for example, an employee might be having, but you can also model that against the type of controls you're using.

You're seeing if the changes in controls are actually having an effect on the exposure through real-time monitoring. So these devices and the fact that they're connected through sensor technology and the sensors themselves can really be designed around the whole aspect of exposure types. Let me give you an example. So very common in laboratories that use hoods, the hoods are used of course, to protect the employee from the chemicals inside the hood. And many times what happens is that the exposure is based upon the flow rate of the hood. And what sensors can do is they can actually detect not only that there is a flow issue occurring, but it can alert in real-time a facility or a maintenance team through a software system and the connected sensor devices, that allows them to be able to take action on that hood immediately and even notify the user of this specific activity. So that's just one example. Another area that's really been utilizing this type of technology is the construction industry, and a couple of examples of that are on the dust side. So you can do both personal monitoring. So you could be an employee, it could be hooked up with a sensor, that sensor can be connected to devices through wireless technology, and you can be obtaining both real-time information on the levels of exposure and again, it can alert both the supervisor or the employee to the exposure. Maybe you're at multiple sites as a supervisor, it can give you some real-time feedback, even the site, you're not at. Same might go for welding operations and so on. So the sensor capabilities is really been the driving factor here. In addition to that, there's even advances in the physiological data. So, let's say you have a work crew that's working outside in hot temperatures. Not only can you monitor in real-time, the weather activities and what the temperatures and humidity and so on, but you can even measure in real time the physiological data from the employees, heart rates, respiration rates, and a number of factors that really tie into a system that becomes much smarter at what it's doing in alerting both the employee and the management team as to what's happening. And lastly, I want to hit on is kind of an interesting one that's been used more and more. Is using sensor devices within personal protective equipment. So for example, there are hardhat technology where the sensor can be placed in a hardhat. And the purpose of the hardhat sensor is actually to sense proximity to heavy equipment. So, you have someone in a hardhat then when there is an approaching piece of equipment, that also is sensor-based, it will actually alert the users the fact that there is a proximity concern, just like you might see with aircrafts and proximity alerts is very similar technology and consideration. So, there's a lot happening and really it comes down to really what's going to match best to the exposures, but the great news is the advancements have made it much better to be able to both identify where you might be seeing exposures occurring and alert employees and capture that data in real-time and use that data for decision-making and evaluation of controls. Another area I think it's really been advancing is in the area of transportation and Tim, from your experience with transportation, what are you seeing as some of the key trends taking place there?

Tim Leech (15:06):
I think any of us that drive a vehicle, that's maybe less than 10 years old, has started to experience different technological advancements in vehicle safety, just backup cameras, for example, and other things, identification of when the maintenance is due and things of that nature.

But from my standpoint, what I think is the best type of technology. And that's what when it integrates systems to the point that its ease of use. And that it marries when, since we're talking about safety, integrate safety items with functional operational issues and where I'm going at is with telemetrics. There's a couple companies out there that stand out because I've had a little bit of experience with them. That's Smart Drive and then the other ones like it, so it used to be used to be drive cam. I believe when they started, they really were focused on the safety aspect of things, but over the years have evolved to get into the other areas of telemetrics where not only is it GPS, censoring, as far as identification where an operator might be, but it's also monitoring acceleration, deceleration. If there's impact, if the driver's doing something that distracts them from driving the vehicle such as using a cell phone or even nodding off and falling asleep, that the technology comes into play.

And what it does though, with regard to some of the more, just basic rudimentary metrics is it does things like it helps improve fuel efficiency. It helps to optimize maintenance schedules on the operational side, but on the safety side, you can use the video that's created and they can take that data and they can use it in a coaching model. We've talked about behavioral safety on the occupational safety side for a long time, but this is really the first opportunity that you have to take a visual in someone, in a vehicle that has no one supervising them for the most part, as far as they're out there on their own to take information from that. And then to go back with the operator and say, “Hey, look, you're violating our cell phone policy, or you're not wearing your seatbelt, or, you're driving at an excessive speed” or whatever the thing that they're doing is so that you can coach your drivers to get in front of them to prevent losses.

And so, it's been really effective, and the operational side has helped to sell the safety aspect. The one thing that I would caution, not just with the telemetrics technology, but other technology, the tool is only good is its use. I've got a client that I had worked with. It's a large logistics organization with many different centers and they have this safety telemetrics technology in their vehicles. But when they get the data, they don't do anything with it. So, in a sense when it comes that it really becomes just, they're basically pouring money after nothing, because the technology alone is not going to control or help reduce losses or risk to employees or to prevent accidents. So, you want to make sure that, hey, look, if you're using it, make sure the data is relative to what you're measuring, that management agrees with it and that they're driving it, no pun intended. And that's when it really becomes an effective tool. Christie, you've worked with some organizations, I believe with some telemetrics. Is there anything that you'd want to add to what I just shared?

Kristi Loiselle (18:24):
A lot of it right on the head there. I think the biggest issue I see is successful companies go above and beyond. They don't just simply implement a telemetric program. They really integrate it into their overall safety program. They've got something in place they need to go above and beyond, go for the driver's scorecard, make it so there's a system of evaluating your drivers. And again, report is only as good as the information that it's going to spit out. Is it useful information? Can you take action with that data you just received or is it just great, here's my report. What am I going to do with it? The other thing, I don't know if you mentioned Tim was the in-cab smart cameras and you'd mentioned, it does notify whether drivers are dozing off or if they're reaching over for something on the floor or anywhere else where they shouldn't be as opposed to right in front and center.

So, I think the problem with these cameras, and if you want to call it a problem is some of the drivers feel that big brother's watching them. If you present it right, I think you can sway your drivers in the direction you want them, let them know, look, we're not sitting here watching the cameras all day. It's basically for a trigger event. And so if a trigger event occurs, that's the only time we're going to go back and be watching. We're not sitting here all day, looking at you driving. Again, these programs can be very useful and help. And I think these successful companies that have done well with these have really made it into a program as opposed to just an isolated piece of their safety.

Tim Leech (20:02):
They're not without their flaws either. I was with a friend of mine going a bicycle race here a few weeks ago. And he's like, man, I love this variable cruise control, basically adjust the cruise control with the traffic. Well, if you have somebody that basically comes and cuts off, I mean, it basically slams on the brakes almost where it just basically decelerates really fast, which can create an issue as well. But we want to make sure that we're not too complacent with it. Of course, the Tesla, jumping in the Tesla, plugging into the address and it basically takes you to where you need to go. So, you want to make sure that you're not being complacent. And again, just understand that the data is great if you implement it. Another area I just wanted to touch upon. I think Brady is in a better position to maybe address it, but in the property area, loss control, when we think of property, we often think of fire and fire loss, but quite honestly, water is a bigger issue from the standpoint of where we experience the losses and properties. And there's quite a bit of technology out there with regard to leak detection and so on and so forth. And I know that I don't have any clients that I know that I'm sure there's clients using it, but I haven't been involved in that. But I know Brady, you mentioned earlier that you had some clients that are using the leak detection and some of the other technology with regard to, to managing their property risk. Do you want to comment on those?

Brady Dunn (21:21):
Just to set the stage here, I was recently in a claim review for a client, we were going through the property claims, and it seemed like over half of the claims that we were reviewing were water leak clients, whether it be because of a storm come through and window penetration. But the majority of those that we saw were due to human element issues, overflowing bathtubs or toilets or things, hot water heater gives away and it leaks for couple of weeks and it's a slow leak and there's water damage, not only in that unit, but maybe units below, depending on how significant the leak is.

And then you have sprinkler systems mean the majority of our clients that are in manufacturing or multifamily or hotels, right. That got sprinkler systems. So in winter months, those sprinkler pipes, they have a tendency to freeze. Especially in areas like porte cochereor attics, and it's a real significant issue. There's a lot of technology. It has been around for a while, some of it has but just like any technology that improves over time, we work with our clients quite a bit to identify if it makes sense to have some leak detection technology built into the buildings, not only when they're being built for the first time in new construction. But also if you have an older building, let's say that has older pipes, or it has an older hot water heater system, those are great candidates for looking at this technology that can help identify those leaks before they become more significant issues.

There's a lot of companies out there that the technology has improved so much that you could have electronic notification. So, the device sitting at the base of hot water heater picks up any moisture whatsoever, it'll send a notice that either text message or an email to the maintenance department or the general manager of the hotel so that they can respond before those things become significant issues. That technology is really making some significant strides. One of the challenges with that as in the cost and in the hotel world, as we all know, it has been hit really hard with the pandemic. A lot of hotel companies aren't even backed up to 50% occupancy rate yet. The cost of these devices to set up an entire hotel can be fairly expensive. I've got a client up in new England that implemented this a couple of years ago.

Bay, 150 room hotel just to a normal box hotel, nothing too extravagant. And the cost was about $20,000. So, and then you have an ongoing monitoring fee of a couple thousand dollars. They can be expensive, but I will say, and this is specifically about sprinkler system monitoring, this client has in what we've evaluated, really prevented two water damage claims from having that system in place. So, if you think about how much of a retention a client takes on their insurance program on a property policy, if they take a $25,000 deductible to claims, you may be at $50,000. You just have to look at that from a cost benefit perspective and really make your own decisions. But that technology is really, saving property claims, saving mold claims. I just was recently reading where there was a lawsuit from the apartment complex for $45 million.

Tenant had sued the ownership because she had a mold exposure, which caused significant health concerns and issues for her. So the award was just tremendous, right? $45 million is just crazy. So, these types of devices can help prevent those types of exposures. We definitely recommend a full evaluation of those.

Tim Leech (25:05):
Something came to mind when, when you were talking about, and I think it's important to bring it out is the utilization of thermography or infrared. Basically, you're looking at electrical systems most of the time, you're looking at electrical systems, but they can also be used from a looking at roof maintenance and moisture and things of that nature. But it is the best way that you can identify in a pre-loss standpoint, any potential for all electrical issues that may result in fire or system interruption. We use that quite a bit and it really is something that should be considered in a property conservation program.

Brady Dunn (25:46):
That's a great point. And do you, I mean, you guys all know this too. I mean, you look back seven, eight years ago, the cost of a thermal scanner was significant, right? I mean, you would spend mentoring models, $5,000. You go back that far, but you can get a thermal scanner now for a couple of hundred bucks. I mean, just the availability of those. There was no reason why a maintenance person at a property should not have that at their disposal. That's a great point, John. I know on the ventilation side, right. There's technology systems, especially in the world of COVID and the regulations that have come out for air changing and air quality. What's your experience with technology as that relates to that?

John Owen (26:25):
It's all about sensor technology and ultimately those connected capabilities. I'll give you a practical example. Just pretty recently, I had to change out my home air conditioning system. And if any of you haven't done that in a while was quite interesting when they installed the new one, I didn't even get a chance at the old analog controller on the wall. Everything now is digital and everything is wireless. And not only that, but it came with multiple sensors that I can place anywhere in my house. And it can measure the temperature and make decisions against the management of the air conditioning system for my home based on that. So if you see that in residential today, what you're seeing in commercial even goes beyond that there are some significant systems that are in place today that not only you can place sensors within the ductwork or within the locations, and you can monitor for their traditional comfort levels, carbon dioxide, temperature humidity, but they even now have volatile organic compounds sensors, or other sensors that may be of concern based on the operation that can actually be placed within the ventilation system. And not only alert of the concern of those constituents, but also allows for automated adjustments. So I'll use an example. Wildfire smoke is an example of that, right? When we get a lot of bad wildfires here in California and you get the smoke that might come in, well, the last thing you want to do is bring it into the building. So, there's technology now that's being advanced and I'm starting to read about some of this. It's going to tie back into the air quality index capabilities and allow for more automation through the sensors of what to do with the ventilation systems and buildings. So, keep your eye out because those technologies are continuing to improve and not only will it make it more comfortable, but you can even set up based on your business and the parameters to start tying that into more automation and management of that ventilation system for efficiency, but also for the management of the air constituents and safety of your occupant.

Brady Dunn (28:22):
John, you mentioned wildfire smoke. That's an interesting point because I got a client in Napa that during the Napa fires in a couple of years ago, they have a significant claim that a lot of property damage a little bit, but what the biggest issue was smoke damage. So, they had to change out linens and carpets and repaint walls. I mean, it was obviously a lot of smoke in that fire and they were right in the middle of it, but that technology just for wildfires alone, as we see those increasing across the Pacific Northwest, it's a fantastic point.

Kristi Loiselle (28:53):
Thank you, gentlemen, for your insight today into this ever-evolving area of technology and safety. If you want to get in contact with this, you may at We hope you'll join us for more of our podcasts during National Safety Month.


Alliant note and disclaimer: This document is designed to provide general information and guidance. Please note that prior to implementation your legal counsel should review all details or policy information. Alliant Insurance Services does not provide legal advice or legal opinions. If a legal opinion is needed, please seek the services of your own legal advisor or ask Alliant Insurance Services for a referral. This document is provided on an “as is” basis without any warranty of any kind. Alliant Insurance Services disclaims any liability for any loss or damage from reliance on this document.