Some workers in the manufacturing and fabrication industries might soon enjoy improved conditions that give their hands a break. In late 2016, a team led by professors from the University of Wisconsin-Madison received funding to continue its research into algorithms that could analyze hand motions using available cellphone technology.

The research team had already created algorithms that let computers analyze hand motion and deliver a measurement of how much hazardous activity was associated with different tasks. Following this initial success, they hope to use the additional money to apply their techniques to a broader pool of data from different facilities over a period of three years. In the process, they believe that they can create a completely new, more objective means of measuring the injury risk levels associated with individual job tasks.

The early results of the project suggest that computer vision-aided workplace safety practices could be implemented using low-cost technology. Cellphones, which already contain the required camera functions, processors and networking capabilities, might be combined with apps that let employers monitor their employees’ work actions and then identify risky behaviors. Proponents envision a world where companies can quantify how factors like speed and the way people move contribute to risk and apply the data to redesign their work zones for the better.

Many factors contribute to the incidence of workplace injuries. Although some employers believe that they’ve fulfilled their safety obligations by providing proper equipment, their business practices could also be putting employees in harm’s way. From completely failing to institute appropriate safety rules to simply placing a higher value on job speed, these firms may create conditions that result in their workers sustaining lasting injuries. Victims may find it easier to pursue workers’ compensation benefits after they discuss the claims process with their legal advisers.