Wearable technology is a new frontier that employers and safety professionals must prepare to address.   While the business use of wearable-technology devices such as glasses, barcode readers and high-definition cameras is in the early stages, consumer devices such as fitness watches, Google glasses and Apple watches are being sold or soon will be available to the general public for purchase. 

As a consequence, employers can expect more and more employees to sport wearables while at work for non-work-related reasons – something that could affect the safe performance of their jobs.

The potential for improving profitability and productivity likely will ensure the expansion of wearable-technology use in businesses. The current use of wearable technology already has shown that it can provide workers and management with information and data in real time, ensuring that jobs are performed at optimum levels with minimal errors and in compliance with company policies and the law. 

For example, in the retail industry, some sales staff wear wireless headsets so they quickly and accurately can respond to customer inquiries. In the distribution industry, wearable technology in the form of glasses that incorporate high-definition cameras are worn by warehouse employees and used to scan barcodes to ensure that the correct item is selected for shipment to minimize returns, direct the sequence of item selection to improve efficiency, advise of fragile items to prevent breakage and warn of hazards in an effort to avoid injuries.

Risks of Wearable Technology

The use of wearable technology in the workplace poses a significant risk for unprepared businesses. Inappropriate and unlawful use of wearable technology could create issues for employers, resulting in disgruntled employees, injuries and deaths, charges of discrimination and lawsuits. Employers must begin to review the pros and cons of using wearable technology for business purposes and whether to allow employees to use wearables in the workplace for business or personal reasons. 

Employers that fail to consider the potential effects of wearable technology on their businesses could be forced to waste human and financial capital dealing with resentment from employees who feel their privacy rights have been violated; potential injuries and fatalities of employees who were distracted by the use of the wearable technology; and legal claims. Moreover, the expected improvements in profitability and productivity will not be attained if injuries and property damage occur.

The introduction of wearable technology into the workplace by both employers and employees directly will impact employee safety. The use of wearables by employees, particularly when used by employees for personal reasons, can take their focus and concentration away from the safe performance of their jobs. Like the use of cellphones by employees while driving, improper usage can result in significant safety issues.