Every morning when he goes to work in the freezer room of a warehouse in eastern Pennsylvania, Jack Westley throws on a hooded sweatshirt to keep warm and grabs a radio to talk to his coworkers. He was recently given a new piece of equipment to wear, which he attaches to a harness over his shoulders. It’s a black device about the size of a smartphone that tracks his every move.
For Westley, a 36-year-old with tattooed arms and a sunny disposition, work means a full day of carrying boxes as ice slowly forms in his beard. The freezer is one of the more treacherous areas, according to the warehouse’s management, in part because workers get sloppy when they’re cold. So each time Westley bends too deeply to pick up a box or twists too far to set one down, the device on his chest vibrates to send a warning that his chance of getting hurt is elevated. Westley noticed he’d developed a habit of bending at the waist as he reached far into pallets to pull out boxes. “That might’ve been something they would vibrate on me for, but I started walking around to the sides of the pallets, you know, thanks to the reminder,” he says.
The device, made by a startup called StrongArm Technologies Inc., also sends the information it gathers about Westley to his employer, Geodis. The warehouse in Breinigsville, Pennsylvania, where Westley works is one of a handful of locations where Geodis is testing StrongArm devices. They are also in use at facilities operated by Walmart Inc. and other companies. Geodis says the trackers could supplement existing safety programs by identifying employees who need extra coaching, while also helping single out locations in its operations that should be redesigned to reduce the chances of injury.