The impact of IoT — the "internet of things" — can be seen in almost every area of life today. The expansive network of internet-connected devices affects how we drive, shop, build cities, manufacture products and combat pollution. Gartner predicts that 25 billion devices will be connected to the internet by 2021, up from 14.2 billion in 2019.
With a member base spanning a variety of industries that already rely on IoT, unions are well positioned to leverage technology that enhances member safety on the job and supports their overall health.
Below are three ways unions can harness the power of IoT.
Wearables to Track Work Site Hazards
In 2017, around 4,000 preventable deaths occurred in the workplace, while workplace injuries involving medical attention totaled 4.5 million. All of this cost businesses $161.5 billion in medical expenses, property damage, lost productivity and other administrative expenses. To keep members safe on the job and reduce costs, unions can use wearables to monitor the work environment. These devices can track factors that may contribute to potential harms, such as humidity, harmful gas, noise, temperature and hazardous materials, and then alert the member and supervisors if there's danger.
These devices can also be equipped with a geofence, which sends a warning to a member who's approaching a boundary where hazards are more likely to occur. Because union members may find themselves working alone, these devices can be critical if there's an emergency. They allow the member to alert police or coworkers, and make it easier for leaders to find a member who hasn't reported back from a job site on time.
Wearables for Wellness
Nearly half of all consumers have a wearable device — typically a fitness tracker or smartwatch. The more sophisticated among these devices can monitor activity level, heart rate, skin temperature, blood oxygen level and brain activity to detect fatigue, overexertion or even early signs of a larger health issue. The device can be set to alert the member to move more, rest or seek medical attention.
The millions of data points monitored each day can also be aggregated and analyzed to improve member health. This data helps unions align insurance benefits with member needs, and provides information on relevant findings (e.g., reminders on how to stay cool when working outside if wearable data indicates that members are prone to high skin temperature).
However, despite the devices' widespread use, the union cannot simply hand out fitness trackers and expect better health results. Users often lose interest with the device within months. Gamification and incentives may help motivate members to use the device long term. Simple examples include a step challenge that awards active members, or partnering with a health insurance provider to provide premium discounts for certain wellness goals.
Equipment Sensors to Prevent Injury
For your members in industries such as construction, manufacturing, mining, transportation, agriculture and utilities, internet-connected sensors are critical for ensuring equipment remains in working order. Sensors can detect malfunctions or unexpected energy-use patterns and alert the worker, safety inspector, manager or anyone responsible for regular maintenance before the equipment becomes a hazard.
The impact of IoT has never been more wide-ranging. It cannot prevent every disease or workplace hazard, but by partnering with employers, insurance providers and members themselves, unions can leverage the trend to take incremental steps toward ensuring the health and safety of members.
Heather Kerrigan started her career in journalism at Governing magazine, reporting on state and local politics and policy, with a specific focus on public workforce, environment, health care, education and technology issues. Prior to co-founding River Horse Communications, Heather offered freelance editorial services to a variety of outlets, including SAGE Publications' Historic Documents series and The Kanter Journal. Heather is the author of the book Retire Rich With Your 401(k) Plan. She holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from The George Washington University.