Woolworths pilots wearables with 100 distribution centre workers

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Woolworths pilots wearables with 100 distribution centre workers

Targets injury caused by manual handling.

Woolworths is piloting Australian-created wearable technology with 100 team members in three of its distribution centres that alerts workers if they make high-risk movements that could lead to injury.

The retailer revealed last week that an initial pilot of the technology, SoterSpine, by seven staff in one centre saw a “greater than 50 percent reduction in high‑risk movements on average”.

“The pilot was extended to include team members at two more distribution centres in the first half of 2019 and, if successful at those centres, will lead to a wider implementation plan across the business for 2020,” Woolworths said.

Both the initial and extended pilots are being run by Woolworths’ supply chain division.

The extended pilot on 100 workers is designed to see if the initial results can be reproduced with a larger sample of workers, and will run for six months.

“Once we have analysed the success of the second pilot, we will determine the next steps,” a Woolworths spokesperson told iTnews.

Woolworths would not be drawn on how many wearables could ultimately end up in use across its delivery centres if a full production deployment was pursued.

SoterSpine is made by a Perth-based startup called Soter Analytics

The product is “a wearable sensor that clips onto an employee’s clothing to monitor what’s happening to their musculoskeletal system throughout the work day.”

“Back-end analytics then search for ‘events’, such as an employee picking up an object from the floor, twisting, bending, or spending extended periods in a static work posture,” according to an explainer of the technology. [pdf]

“The algorithm captures and analyses events and allocates a risk score, which is then transmitted to the employee’s smart device so they can see their own risk levels, as well as suggestions on how to reduce their risk of injury. 

“Aggregated data from all employees is supplied to the employer so trends or high risk areas can be identified, and training efforts or improvements targeted.”

The technology has only been in-market since July last year.

It has gained support - financial and usage - in the resources sector. CEO and co-founder Matthew Hart is a former reliability engineer and productivity analyst at BHP.

It is not the first time that Woolworths has piloted wearable sensor technology around manual handling techniques.

Several years ago, the retailer trialled ViSafe wearable sensors by technology company dorsaVI. 

In this instance, ViSafe sensors were worn by workers testing the efficacy of a new way of manually handling milk products when working in the supermarket’s display fridges.

Woolworths was testing a new trolley called Rotatruck, made by a company called Rotacaster, which allowed workers to more easily pick milk crates off pallets and then stack the milk into the fridges.

To test the potential improvement of the trolleys, Woolworths used wearables to see just how much lower back movement they could save workers. It wound up rolling out the trolleys to most stores. [pdf]

In 2017, Woolworths was forced to pay a Brisbane worker $230,000 over an injury allegedly incurred in a distribution centre.

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