Construction workers in Saskatchewan could soon be less prone to injuries thanks to the watchful eyes of computers.
Betterworks, the winner of the Innovation Saskatchewan Innovation Challenge, in partnership with the Saskatchewan Construction Safety Association (SCSA), presented their solution Vergo at the SCSA’s Constructing Safety Leadership Conference. The challenge gave Betterworks a 16-week residency with SCSA and Saskatchewan Innovation to develop the technology.
Vergo, which stands for video ergonomics, is a software product that aims to prevent injuries in the workplace. Christian Browne, president and founder of Betterworks, explained the technology integrates with existing worksite cameras to automatically perform ergonomic risk evaluations from the images in minutes.
These risk assessments can help workers identify behaviours that lead to injury.
The challenge was launched in June 2021 and invited Saskatchewan’s technology startups, entrepreneurs and researchers to propose technology solutions to address the Government of Saskatchewan’s priority of creating healthy, safe and productive workplaces in the construction industry.
“When this challenge came along, and we knew musculoskeletal injuries were a major cause of issues, we said we should try to solve this problem and submitted an application,” said Browne.
Initially Betterworks explored using wearable tech to get data.
“Initially we looked at wearable tech but after SCSA and Saskatchewan Innovation gave us the opportunity to meet with end users, small, medium and large construction companies, they mentioned they were looking for a solution that was easy to implement in the field.”
Instead, the team looked at computer vision, a type of artificial intelligence that teaches computers to analyze images.
Betterworks found this solution could be integrated with smartphones and site cameras, making implementation much easier and cheaper.
The solution includes privacy features that can blur faces or backgrounds. Users can also change the ergonomic standards being used to analyze video.
Brown said the residency was a great opportunity to look for partners and over the next few months the team is hoping to develop some pilot projects with various partners in construction, manufacturing, health care or any industry that requires manual handling.
“The pilot projects will be able to conduct assessments, get feedback and see how to better develop this product,” said Browne. “After this period is done, we are hoping in six to eight months to be ready to go with a product.”
Browne previously worked in health and safety in the oil and gas sector for a safety association. He found one of the leading causes of injury in workplaces were musculoskeletal injuries. He also found much of the response was after an injury occurred.
“A lot of the solutions on the market are reactive,” said Browne. “Injuries have already occurred instead of trying to get ahead of them. That was my frustration. We are hoping this product can do that.”
The cost of injuries for a business can be astounding. Browne noted a back injury can start at $80,000 and go as high as $300,000.
“That is a good chunk of change for a small business,” said Browne.
He noted technology is catching up.
He said computer vision technology in the past would have only been available with expensive, elaborate equipment at research facilities whereas now one can implement it with a smartphone.
“It’s exciting to see the development of technology in health and safety because it’s an industry that can use it for a great benefit,” said Browne.
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