According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, an effective health and safety programme can save a company $4-6 for every $1 invested through increased productivity and higher employee morale. Indeed, research has shown that properly implemented health and safety measures in the workplace help reduce absences and sick leave, keep employees engaged, increase productivity and profits, save in insurance and legal costs and also build a favourable company reputation that will help attract new talent.
So, what are some of the key trends we’ve been seeing in this space, and how have startups jumped in to help businesses keep their employees safe and healthy?
1.Employee wellness efforts
First and foremost, we have to mention employee wellness efforts. Employee wellness efforts have become a key demand in the workplace, even playing a role in an individual’s choice to join a company or not. A report by the American Psychological Association showed that in organisations where employees do not view leadership as committed to their wellbeing, only 17% would recommend the company as a good place to work.
The global workplace wellness market is expected to be worth $74 billion by 2026. So, what exactly do wellness programmes look like? How are businesses ensuring their employees’ wellbeing, and how are startups involved in these efforts?
Several startups have emerged with sports and wellbeing subscription models. Gymlib is a French startup that provides subscribers (individuals or employees) access to over 3,500 fitness and wellbeing centres (gyms, pools, spas, etc.). The startup has already secured many large clients, such as the SNCF.
Other approaches include startups like Capsix. The company develops a robotic arm that provides personalised massages (adapted to ones’ morphology) for workers in order to help them relax.
A more hands-on and practical approach for employers includes the ability to monitor employees’ health within the workplace. For example, Padoa provides companies with software and connected objects to help monitor health factors such as blood pressure, hearing, vision, BMI, etc. Another example is Smartfuture, which develops on-premise health kiosks that employees can use to monitor similar health metrics (blood pressure, glucose levels, electrocardiography data, etc.) while also providing dietary and fitness recommendations.
Lastly, many startups such as Ufity, have come out with solutions to help incentivise healthy behaviours by offering rewards for fitness and dietary efforts.
Employees’ psychological wellbeing is also increasingly understood as something that cannot be forgotten or neglected. Companies like Michelin group have made it a point to place employees’ mental wellbeing and stress levels as a key focus area to avoid burn outs.
Startups like Unmind offer online platforms focused on mental health, with features to help employers monitor their employees’ stress and anxiety levels and provide tools such as coaching to help avoid worsening mental wellbeing. Then there are startups like PsycApps, that gamifies mental health to help users better understand their mental health, build interpersonal skills and improve awareness of mental health issues.
2. Automation through robotics
Manual handling is reportedly the cause of over a third of workplace injuries. As such, many industries have embraced robotics in an effort to automate repetitive or risky tasks.
Wandelbots (in the top 10% of startups rated by Early Metrics) develops TracePen, a sensor-equipped handheld tool that captures human motion in the workspace to demonstrate actions for a robot to replicate. The solution enables non-programmers and non-technical experts to teach industrial robots easily and faster, which can be a practical way to avoid injuries while also saving time. Numerous other startups have developed robotic arms to help automate repetitive tasks, such as MIP Robotics.
3. Posture monitoring
Despite the rise of automation to tackle this very issue, one of the main professional health concerns in recent years remains musculoskeletal disorders, often linked to repetitive tasks performed by employees. For over 20 years, musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) have been the number one recognised professional disease in France and other European countries. In Great Britain, 20% of the non-fatal injuries to employees reported through RIDDOR 2018/19 were linked to handling, lifting or carrying. Since manual labour remains necessary and not everything can be automated, solutions are necessary to reduce injuries.
Several startups aim to tackle these issues, with posture and movement monitoring and guidance being at the heart of many solutions. Laevo produces and sells a small lightweight passive exoskeleton that prevents and reduces work injuries for physical workers, especially exposed to repetitive and demanding tasks. Matvisio develops software that identifies bad posture in work environments in real-time so that employers can take corrective actions to avoid injuries.
For workers in office settings, 8sense (in the top 10% of startups rated by Early Metrics) offers a sensor that is clipped onto someone’s shirt or chair to collect data on posture and movements in order to provide virtual coaching on how to avoid back pain.
4. AR and VR for training
In May 2019, Lenovo launched ThinkReality, an AR/VR headset that can be used by companies to train employees and improve productivity. Defence agencies have been using a combination of digital reality technologies to train soldiers and medical professionals: the Pentagon is reportedly looking to budget as much as $11 billion for VR, AR, and mixed-reality training systems by 2022. Businesses throughout the world have been embracing AR and VR technologies for a wide variety of uses, including safety training. Virtual reality provides immersive experiences so that employees can learn tasks with a hands-on approach, without the physical risks.
Startups like Strivr provide companies with the ability to design VR training programmes for their employees. Safety training through VR can help employees feel more prepared when faced with a potentially dangerous situation, which in turn helps reduce the risk of accidents or injuries. For continued support, NxtBase offers an assisted reality solution that helps workers follow and validate processes during their tasks, while receiving instructions from their ERP.
5. Covid-19 safety and prevention measures
Of course, we cannot ignore the fact that the current COVID-19 pandemic is completely reshaping the workplace, including health and safety measures at work. Indoor disinfection tools, space management solutions, hand cleansing tools, virtual meeting software and safety barrier monitoring solutions are all arguably booming right now with increased demand. For the foreseeable future, businesses will need to ensure they are adopting solutions that put their employees’ health and safety first, more so than ever before. Datakalab’s mask-wearing monitoring, Smart Hygiene’s self-cleaning door handle, Protect Ecran’s anti-microbial film for screens, and Tended’s bracelet system to signal when workers are too close, are all examples of ways in which startups have jumped in to help businesses work through this pandemic.
The five trends listed above are part of a bigger picture, which is the increased awareness that health and safety needs to be a priority for businesses worldwide, both to ensure employee wellbeing but also to secure significant savings in terms of time and money. The market is expected to be worth $88 billion by 2027, and we expect startups will continue to play a strong role in its evolution.