MEMIC Safety Research Center Selects Illinois State University Team to Study Wearable Technologies in the Workplace

Illinois State University Katie School of Insurance and Risk Management Executive Director James R. Jones.

Second year of grants deepen industry-academic partnership to produce actionable findings

The MEMIC Group, specialists in workers’ compensation insurance, has awarded an Illinois State University research team $30,000 to investigate whether wearable sensors can maximize performance and minimize injuries in U.S. workplaces.

The research will focus on the occupational activities of workers in warehouses, and whether wearable technologies that track functional movements — helmets warning of fatigue or sensors aiding in ergonomic modifications, for example — can provide continuous physiological data to guide treatment plans and training programs that would mitigate or alleviate injuries.

The primary investigator, Illinois State University Katie School of Insurance and Risk Management Executive Director James R. Jones, will join principal technical investigator Dr. Tice Sirmans, who is an assistant professor at the Katie School, along with two graduate students in actuarial science, and four undergraduate risk management and insurance majors, in conducting the study.

Jones said the warehouse setting is ideal for monitoring the use of wearables and real-time feedback, since there are more than 2 million warehouse employees employed in the United States, average age 39, with overexertion injuries that continue to vex safety managers.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics recorded nearly 25,000 non-fatal cases of overexertion requiring days off from work in 2020, Jones said. Musculoskeletal injuries account for over 300,000 injuries each year and require 38% more lost time than the average injury or illness, with more than 900,000 days away from work at a total cost exceeding $20 billion.

“We are grateful for this grant and for this partnership with MEMIC,” Jones said. “With the availability of wearable technology to monitor and potentially reduce the risk of musculoskeletal injuries, there is a sizeable potential for cost-savings, increased productivity, and overall improved worker health we hope to be able to uncover and detail.”

“We are proud to have established this grant partnership and congratulate Illinois State University researchers on their successful proposal as we look together for ways to integrate technology into workplace practices that protect workers,” MEMIC Vice President of Loss Control Maryann Hoff said.

This is the second round of MEMIC Safety Research Center grants, which MEMIC Group President & CEO Michael P. Bourque said will add to beneficial workplace safety research begun with the 2021 grant to a faculty team at Indiana University of Pennsylvania’s Department of Safety Sciences investigating ways to limit workplace slips, trips, and falls.

“Our partnership with academia continues to uncover best practices to reduce lost-time injuries, which can be crippling to workers and expensive for businesses,” Bourque said. “MEMIC grants allow researchers to intensively examine workforce safety challenges our Loss Control teams see in the field every day, showing how MEMIC continues to be relentless in finding real-time solutions that reduce the frequency and severity of work-related injuries.

“We expect the research generated at Illinois State to only enhance our safety offerings to policyholders as they continuously implement best workforce safety practices,” Bourque said.

“Engaging in academic research allows investigators to study occupational workplace hazards and solutions in a laboratory setting where all things are possible,” said Dr. Luis F. Pieretti, manager of industrial hygiene at The MEMIC Group and architect of the MEMIC Safety Research Center. “The research to be conducted by Illinois State will help expand our knowledge of occupational hazards and how we look at solutions to unsafe working conditions in every industry.”