Technology and Innovation in WHS

Australian Institute of Health and Safety, Visions Conference 2022

It was my pleasure to speak this week at the AIHS Visions 2022 conference on technology and innovation in WHS. It was amazing to see the conference at full capacity – I believe people were waitlisted for cancellations! The room was at maximum capacity and we could feel the sense of belonging and community that comes from an in-person event.

It is a difficult balance, weighing up the value of new technologies which are often unproven, against the need for evidence-based practice. I spoke about a few case examples of Back on Track’s use of  innovative approaches that have indeed shown real value and efficacy. These have included:

  • The development of a bespoke app for aged care workers. In 2019, Back on Track was engaged by WorkCover Queensland to assist with an Injury Risk Reduction Initiative (IRRI). We collaborated with unions, subject matter experts and of course workers to brainstorm and troubleshoot novel ways to address the ongoing high rate of injury among aged care workers. Over the subsequent 3 years, we developed and refined educational training videos, an e-learning module and an app that guides decision making. The goal of these resources and app is to support aged care workers and disability support workers to make sensible operational decisions in the care of their clients, thereby reducing their exposure to manual task hazards and occupational violence and aggression. Resources are available at and although still in pilot phase, the program has shown success in reducing exposure to risk and increasing job control for carers.

  • Telehealth and the value of early intervention for injury management. Over the past 2 years we have worked with a national health care organisation to provide telehealth injury management services to their staff.  This telehealth program has proven even without hands on therapy, we can provide significant value in the determination of diagnosis, reassurance, injury management advice and early referral for treatment.  This telehealth early intervention program, combined with good risk management,  demonstrated reduced workers’ compensation claims by 75%, down from 25 compensable claims in 2020 to 8 in 2021. When considering the current staffing crisis in health care it is more important than ever to value and protect these essential workers.

  • Wearable technologies have become an interesting and useful tool in the toolkit however the caveat is that they do not suffice for risk management. They are great in risk assessment and terrific as a training aid to increase engagement with workers.  We have run programs to address truck egress safety using wearable sensors to indicate joint loading on descent; We have worked with order pickers to examine their pick rate and exposure to repetition using wearable sensors and even found them useful as biofeedback with posture correction for office workers. People do love a gadget!

I ended my presentation at Visions 2022 as I began, noting the risks and benefits of innovation and technology. As a health care provider it is ingrained in our DNA that products and services must have evidence to support their use. Much of the emerging technology lacks such evidence and we need to use our finite WHS resources carefully. When considering innovative approaches or emerging technologies ensure they:

  • Demonstrate efficacy, reliability and validity in the claims and assertions made
  • Represent value for money when compared with alternatives
  • Are part of your strategic risk management approach, not a ‘magic bullet’
  • Reduce exposure to physical AND psychosocial risk factors eg. ↑job control, ↓workload
  • Are monitored and reviewed like any risk control
  • Don’t impede or sacrifice the human – human interaction. The pandemic has certainly highlighted the critical importance of human interaction and our need for community and belonging.

Leanne Loch 
Occupational Health Physiotherapist | Ergonomist | Director