To reduce injuries and create a healthier work environment, Purchase, NY-based PepsiCo turned to wearable devices to monitor employees and assist in correcting improper lifting, bending and other ergonomic behaviors.

The results of the initial three-month study reduced injuries and lost work time, according to a case study by Kenetic Inc., which supplies the Reflex wearable devices.

Specifically, the belt-mounted devices alert users with a light vibration when they improperly bend at the waist to pick up a box instead of squatting or twist to move a package from pallet to conveyor belt instead of turning to face the package, pivoting and putting the package down.

Craig Watkins, vice president customer success, Kinetic, noted the device serves as a behavioral coach for proper ergonomic activity in real-time.

 “For a high-level overview, we have an ergonomic wearable device that delivers haptic feedback in the form of a vibration to alert employees when they take a risky movement such as bending instead of squatting,” he noted. “We partner this experience with a data dashboard so that leaders can review the data and consider operational action plans such as individual coaching, or team coaching, or assessing seasonal trends.”

Mr. Watkins added the managers can use the data to identify high-risk employees and focus on coaching those individuals who may benefit from one-on-one sessions in addition to the device feedback.

As the result of the study, he said, one facility purchased a temporary $3,000 lift table to reduce lifting and bending while folding boxes. This evolved into a $7,000 installation of a permanent platform. The site also added palletizing tracks for multi-stack to prevent twisting. Other minor changes included installing a pump cart to push off boxes where they were previously too low and purchasing new brooms with higher handles to reduce bending for sanitation workers.

Since launching with Frito-Lay North America, the program has expanded to Pepsi Foods Canada, including Quaker facilities, and Pepsi Beverage North America. It’s all part of a broader “Beyond Zero – Pursue Positive” initiative by PepsiCo to create an injury-free workplace and add value to the health and well-being of employees.

Overall, computer-based training programs have proven to be effective in improving workplace safety and food safety. However, Jon Anderson, president, JRA Occupational Safety Consulting LLC, has a caveat with such initiatives.

“The programs that can be modified or adapted to make the training site-specific are, in my opinion, the best product for training employees,” he said. “A canned or generic training program is not relatable, and the information is not retained effectively.”

He added that the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration has not looked positively on generic training as an effective tool for ergonomic issues.

“From a practical perspective, employees don’t gain any real safety insight or what inherent risks they may face when the training is basic information or a regurgitation of the regulation,” said Mr. Anderson, who also consults for food companies and the American Bakers Association. “Employees need to understand the hazards they will face in their day-to-day work activities, and they must also see and understand how to avoid the hazard and see safe operating practices and behaviors demonstrated.”

When designing a new bakery, he added, virtual reality could enable engineers and architects to place processing equipment more effectively in positions that will allow for safe and efficient movement through the bakery.

“Virtual reality will also allow the design team to better visualize how the operator will interact with equipment and production flow,” Mr. Anderson explained. “If virtual reality will allow an equipment design engineer to better visualize the challenges that an equipment operator will have when running production such as adding ingredients and product changeover, then the resulting design will be much more efficient.”

Just as importantly, he said, virtual reality could allow the facility’s design engineer to observe how sanitation workers will interact with equipment during disassembly and cleanup. Identifying and eliminating the challenges that sanitation employees face could improve ergonomics, sanitation and food safety.

“I have observed where efficient and sanitary equipment design improves ergonomics, reduces potential for injury and reduces the amount of downtime required for cleanup,” Mr. Anderson said.