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August 12, 2014

How the NFL May Fix Workers’ Comp

Summary:

The RFID sensors that the NFL is putting on players to generate data for fans could help with investigations of workplace injuries.

I have a whiz bang idea for solving that pesky investigation issue that surrounds every workers’ compensation claim.

This idea will clearly get me that Nobel or Pulitzer Prize. Either one. I’m not fussy.

It came to me while I was reading an article about the NFL boosting its statistics tracking and accuracy with the use of RFID tags in the players’ shoulder pads. It seems these amazing little chips will allow NFL statisticians to know “real-time position data for each player,” as well as “precise info on acceleration, speed, routes and distance.” This is part of the NFL’s “Next Gen Stats” initiative for fans.

For those who are unaware, RFID (radio frequency identification) technology is the hot new thing. Essentially, an RFID tag contains a passive ID chip that can be activated by receivers as it passes near them. The tag requires no battery power and is highly reliable. Stores like Walmart now use them extensively to track and monitor inventory changes. Even my Florida SunPass tag uses one. The small sticker on my windshield allows me to zip through tolls and access parking at Tampa International Airport without talking to anyone or even rolling down my window. Of course, the tag also allows the state to bill me for that activity and serves to notify the NSA that I am on the move again. But the NSA probably already knew that. The complete loss of privacy is a small price to pay for not having to chat up a friendly toll taker.

I am so glad the NFL has gone with RFID. It is a much more reliable technology than those old scanner barcodes. That was a disaster — having to get the player to run into the end zone six times before the scanner could capture the touchdown — but I digress. . . .

While the article on the NFL and RFID was prattling on about all the useless stats fans could now have access to, I was thinking in an entirely different direction. I recognized that the NFL has inadvertently invented the personal “black box” for workplace accidents. Think about it. This is a technology that could be employed in offices and factories all over the country.

Employers could easily monitor “real-time position data for each employee,” as well as “precise info on acceleration, speed, routes and distance” as employees move throughout the day. An RFID-enabled wearable could tell accident investigators if an employee was running when he slipped and fell down the stairs, as well as how many rotations he took as he progressed to the bottom.  The tag could determine that an employee was idle in the break room at the time she claimed to be straining her back on the loading dock.  And biometric sensors added to the RFID wearable could actually cross reference stress levels and physiological indicators to the time and location of the accident, giving a clearer view of events than ever before possible.

It is just like data used from airplane black boxes to reconstruct what actually happened to cause an accident. I am telling you, this technology could be a tremendous boon for risk managers and accident investigators everywhere. But why should they have all the fun?

Safety professionals could leverage the same technology to prevent accidents in the first place. Restaurant servers would no longer have to yell “corner” or “door” when traversing areas with visual limitations. Their RFID-enabled monitors would send real time location updates of other employees in the vicinity to heads-up displays located within employees’ Google Glass. The system would issue potential collision warnings similar to those in today’s aviation industry.  I’m telling you, Big Brother really may have all the answers after all.

Unless, of course, all the employees were watching internet porn on their Google Glass heads-up displays, and no work would get done anywhere. On the plus side, biometric sensors should pick up signs of unauthorized porn viewing, so it may be controllable after all.

The remaining challenge will be the design and implementation of the RFID biometric wearable devices. Will they be embedded in the work clothes or uniforms, in bracelets, necklaces or other accessories or simply implanted in our skulls? For the record, I do not recommend the skull implant method. My wife tells me my skull is so thick, the signal could never get out. Also, multiple sensors may need to be deployed on every employee, such as in shoes and on the head. This would be helpful for a truly accurate rotation count on those extended fall injuries.

In the end, we may all be wired to the hilt, with no more need to verbally communicate in the workplace. But we will have our personal black boxes. We’ll all end up as fat people in our little floaty chairs. But if we over-sensored tubbos have a collision, our wearable technology will give investigators a much clearer idea of what went tragically wrong.

Even though the idea is somewhat creepy, and I am largely joking, I think we may actually have something here: black box wearables. Coming soon to a workplace near you.

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About the Author

Bob Wilson is a founding partner, president and CEO of WorkersCompensation.com, based in Sarasota, Fla. He has presented at seminars and conferences on a variety of topics, related to both technology within the workers’ compensation industry and bettering the workers’ comp system through improved employee/employer relations and claims management techniques.

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