Safety and health innovation and programs

Read the latest on innovative products and advancements that could help shape the future of safety and health in the workplace.


SAIF’s Safety and Health Innovation and Programs (SHIP) is exploring ways to assist policyholders in their injury prevention efforts by identifying problems and seeking out ideas, products, and processes that could be part of solutions. Contact us at safetyinnovation@saif.com.


  • Building real safety experience in a virtual setting

    July 5, 2022 — Virtual reality (VR) video teaches the dangers of electrical accidents and how to respond to them safely

    Imagine you’re on shift at the fire station. Your crew just received a call from dispatch about a vehicle that veered off the road and collided with a power pole. At the scene, you spot a black car on the side of the road. It appears to have crashed into a power pole, a piece of which is laying on the road and wires are splayed across the vehicle and ground. As you get closer, you see a woman — scared, confused, possibly injured — sitting in the driver’s seat of the car.   

    Besides a Good Samaritan driver who called 911, you and your crew are the first to respond to the crash. Your first instinct, of course, is to help the injured driver to safety — but how do you do that without putting yourself at risk of electric shock? 

    Luckily, you can take your time figuring it out — the car accident unfolding before you is not real. It’s a virtual reality (VR) video that teaches the dangers of electrical accidents and how to respond to them safely.  

    ‘You’re in it’ 

    The video is part of a training program by SAIF policyholder Oregon Trail Electric Cooperative (OTEC) for first responders and other public safety professionals. Trainees watch the video using a VR headset, which offers a 360-degree, fully immersive experience.  

    “When you put someone in a dangerous scenario, virtually, it’s very valuable,” says Lea Hoover, director of member and strategic services at OTEC. “It’s about information retention. This is the closest thing people can get to a real-life scenario.” 

    Hoover, with the help of OTEC’s Safety, Human Resources and Operations teams, local first responders, and Golden Shovel Agency, produced and launched the program back in 2019 after OTEC discovered the potential of VR technology, first in economic development and then as a safety training tool. OTEC worked with Federated Rural Electric Insurance to develop the power line car accident video.  

    “We have a commitment to our members to provide safety training,” says Terry Fischer, OTEC Director of Human Resources. “We are using this training as a way to share it within our communities, partners and nationally. The retention rate looking at a VR video is higher than just watching a YouTube video. You’re in it.” 

    Data on VR training retention and skill application makes a compelling argument for its benefits. According to Royal Innovative Solutions, a study by Dr. Narendra Kini, CEO of Miami Children’s Health System, found that individuals retain up to 80% of information one year after virtual reality training has taken place, compared to only 20% of information retained after one year by individuals using traditional methods.

    Additionally, a PwC study on virtual reality training found that VR learners were:

    • Four times faster to train than in the classroom
    • Four times more focused than e-learners
    • 275% more confident to apply skills learned after training
    • 75 times more emotionally connected to the content than classroom learners

     “Your brain is tricked into thinking you’re living the scenario,” Hoover says. Additionally, distractions experienced in the classroom or while watching a video online are nearly nonexistent with VR. 

    A virtual training solution 

    In 2020, Maaike Schotborgh joined OTEC as safety and loss control manager and she began hosting the hands-on safety training events in communities across OTEC’s membership districts in 2021. The program launched to first responders throughout OTEC’s Service Territory. 

    “It was great timing to come up with a virtual training solution,” Hoover says. “People are more comfortable with these options than ever before due to many of us working and learning from home during the COVID-19 pandemic.” 

    Schotborgh often delivers the training at the work locations of first responders. Before trainees watch the roughly 7-minute VR video, she gives a presentation and leads a discussion on electrical equipment, how to recognize energized power lines, and how the safest place for someone who just crashed into a power line is usually inside their vehicle – unless the vehicle could catch fire.  

    “In a lot of these groups, there are people with varying levels of experience,” she says. Experienced first responders have told her how important it is that the less experienced crew members learn with the VR method. 

    In terms of measuring the program’s success, Hoover, Fischer, and Schotborgh point to the number of people who have taken the training. Since the program began, OTEC has trained more than 250 professionals. They’ve also gifted headsets to organizations who want to incorporate VR into their onboarding programs. 

    “We hope it’s being used, because if it saves one life, it’s worth the investment 100 times over,” Hoover says. 

    OTEC is a not-for-profit, member-owned cooperative headquartered in Baker City, Oregon, with district offices in La Grande, John Day, and Burns. It serves nearly 60,000 residents in Baker, Grant, Harney, and Union counties with a network of overhead and underground lines over 3,000 miles long. You can find out more about OTEC and watch the VR videos at its website: otec.coop. 

    You can learn more about safety innovations and programs that are assisting SAIF policyholders in their injury prevention efforts at saif.com/safetytech. 

    To learn more about Oregon Trail Electric Cooperative, visit otec.coop.

  • Pilots vs. learning launches

    February 22, 2022 — What’s the difference between a pilot and a learning launch?

    By Sabrina Freewynn, safety innovation manager

    A pilot implies that this is just the first group of many going through a process. The idea is to learn how to roll out a new process or piece of equipment so you can then roll it out on a bigger scale. The implication is that, unless there is something seriously wrong, there will be more groups going through the process in the future.

    A learning launch often has the same approach — a small group trying out a new process or piece of equipment. But the implication is different; the whole purpose is learning. The idea is to try something out and see what happens with no solid plans for what comes next.  

    When I picture a learning launch, I remember my school’s “egg drop” day. Each team was given a raw egg and permission to use whatever materials we wanted to protect it from a fall from the third story roof of our school.  

    I loved trying all sorts of different materials and discovering the results. What worked? What didn’t? Was it possible to make a contraption that allowed the egg to touch the ground before any other material and still survive? Would my bike helmet work? Was there a minimum amount of bubble wrap? How about a single plastic bag? The stakes were intentionally low — a single raw egg — and the real point was to learn, not to succeed. The purpose of the whole event was not  a long future of successfully sending eggs off the roof.  

    In safety innovation, we primarily use learning launches. Innovation is about trying something out and learning from the results. This requires an excitement and curiosity as well as honesty to examine the results without bias. Often, we learn things we didn’t expect. 

    By the way, when launching a raw egg off a roof, a bike helmet doesn’t work. So don’t bike off the roof. The single plastic bag? Works great if it’s thrown from at least the second story (think parachute). Who knew?  

  • Tech Verticals

    February 10, 2022 — SAIF’s safety and health innovation and programs (SHIP) team is improving occupational safety and health by expanding knowledge and delivering value.

    By Sabrina Freewynn, safety innovation manager

    We're on a journey to explore and experience technologies that can improve safety and health at the worksite. We’ve already talked a little about our experience with exoskeletons. Here we want to share more about the different types of technologies we are exploring.

    Wearable devices

    This group of technologies are worn on the body. We are all familiar with step count, heartbeat, sleep, and some of the more common – and more personal – elements. But have you considered the possibilities for a workplace?

    • Heat sensors to know when a worker is reaching dangerous body temperature
    • Noise levels and chemical levels combined with location data and time/date stamping to be able to tell when and where workers are exposed to unhealthy levels of these hazards
    • Ergonomic indicators that can tell the position, torque, and motion of the body in many different directions. This information can be used to find repetitive lifting, awkward body placement, amount of force used, and speed. This technology aims at the most common categories of injury: slips, trips, falls, strains, and sprains.


    While technically drones are the name for unmanned flight vehicles, the term can also apply to other types, too.

    • In the air drones can be used to survey, photograph, inspect, and even do some jobs. Many timber companies use drones to fly super-lightweight poly rope ahead of pulling haywire. Farmers can use drones to detect nitrogen levels and apply fertilizer only in needed areas. Drones even paint houses.
    • On the ground, drones can do all kinds of jobs, including transporting items, weeding and planting, and entering confined spaces.
    • Submersible drones go underwater – another area of high hazard exposure. Think inspection of dams, piers, pumps, and submerged pipelines. This increases safety both by allowing for more frequent inspection and by limiting a diver’s exposure. And, if the repair need is detected earlier, it is often easier to fix. This reduces exposure time and cost.


    Robots can also be custom built for repetitive jobs. Cobots combine robots and humans to jointly complete a task. In a manufacturing plant in southern Oregon, workers combined their talents to build robots to take over the two most hazardous (and boring) jobs on the assembly line. When asked if they were worried about eliminating jobs, they said those were the jobs no one wanted to do. Plus, the creativity led to the expansion of a product line and the need for more workers, not fewer.

    Proximity sensors

    Proximity sensors allow you to detect potential collisions with heavy equipment using cameras, radar, radio waves, and more. To respond, some sound alarms or flashlights while others take over the equipment and slow it down or stop it completely.

    Fleet telematics

    This technology is built into most new vehicles and can be installed in most older vehicles, including farm and construction equipment. It can tell things such as speed, hard breaking, and fast acceleration which often indicate distracted or aggressive driving. It can also give GPS coordinates of a vehicle which can tell you where your fleet is and how long it might take them to get to their next stop without bothering the driver for an ETA. Many companies use it to cut down on idling time to bring down fuel costs and one company we know of even uses it as a timesheet! Starting the car indicates that you've started your workday.

    Virtual reality

    It used to be that virtual reality cost a lot, needed a dedicated space, and needed a technical tinkerer to keep it going. These days you can buy the equipment off the shelf, only need some empty floor space, and the programming is getting better and better. This is ideal for training, and we’ll have more information soon about what that could look like.

    Augmented reality

    Straight from science fiction this technology superimposes important information over real-world sight. What if you gave your new employee a tour of the worksite and they could see potential hazards through their glasses? How about pop-up information about chemicals and how to handle them right before they worked with them rather than stuck in a book on a far shelf?

    Augmented reality can also give a second set of eyes to a job even from far away. Need a consult with a co-worker? Switch on the technology and they can literally see what you are seeing in real time. They can give you instructions hands free while you do the job.

    Lone worker monitoring

    Does your workforce include people that are working alone? We hear this most often in agriculture settings, but it can be part of many jobs including technicians, construction, inspections, and retail. This is most often a mobile app that provides real-time location tracking and emergency communication to responders or management. For those in areas without reliable cell coverage, there are GPS options.

    Video behavior analytics

    This technology pairs video cameras with artificial intelligence to look for particular patterns of behavior and alert workers. For example, in a construction site this technology can use facial recognition to ensure only approved personnel enter a site or use the tools they are certified to use. Cameras can be fix-mounted or worn on a person or mobile equipment. While used for safety, this type of technology has many, many applications for productivity.

    Permit to work tech

    Workers can be impaired for many reasons including drugs and alcohol, fatigue, or even high mental stress. It doesn't really matter how a person is impaired. It only matters that they are unable to focus on their work, increasing the risk for injury.

    This emerging field includes devices that test a person's reflexes by how fast their pupils react to light. The results come back telling the individual – and their employer – if the person is too impaired to work safely. Unlike a drug test, the results are instant, and the test can be taken multiple times. Not permitted to work? Go take a nap and test again in an hour. As an employer, you don't even need to ask why the person is impaired.

    As you can see, there’s a lot happening in the safety technology world! In the coming months we’ll provide more details on these technologies, and how we’re using them with our policyholders.

    Do you use technology to improve safety and productivity at your worksite? We are looking for Oregon companies to learn from. We want to hear the good, the bad, the practical, and the amazing. Please contact us! safetyinnovation@saif.com.

  • Learning alongside policyholders

    January 24, 2022 — SAIF’s safety and health innovation and programs (SHIP) team is improving occupational safety and health by expanding knowledge and delivering value.

    By Sabrina Freewynn, safety innovation manager

    At SAIF, part of our approach to innovation includes testing new technologies in a real-world environment. It’s so valuable to have hands-on experience and put the technologies through real-world trials.  

    Connecting our policyholders with new technology 

    First we find start-ups that have a technology we think can make a difference. Then we identify policyholders who want to try it out and learn alongside us. SAIF policyholders have given feedback to companies that have changed the design of their product — making it better for all users. As one of our policyholders told us, “it’s like working in the future.” 

    Innovation also means making current programs easier to understand and implement so that workers and companies are more willing to adopt them. This is where my true passion lies — innovation to advance adoption. You can have the coolest, most effective dohicky but, if no one wants to use it, it’s not going to save a single life.  

    I’ll be honest, it’s hard handing someone a piece of hardware or a new technology and not knowing if they will like it or not. We value our policyholders' time and want to give them things we know will be useful. But working with policyholders to test tech means we are more accurate in describing how it will function and why it might be useful from the business point of view. We also learn about the rollout process and can provide insight into how to make it easier.  

    Focusing on real-world results  

    In the past few years, SAIF’s safety innovation work has centered on putting new and promising technology into policyholders’ hands to learn together. We focus on questions like: 

    • Will workers use this?  
    • Does it fit into the daily flow of work? 
    • What makes it harder or easier to adopt and use this technology? 
    • Are there benefits beyond safety such as increased productivity, reduced paperwork, or the reputation of the company in the eyes of its employees?  

    We learn directly from our policyholders to answer these questions and more. Together we support the development of innovative tools and technology that will keep Oregon workers safe both now and in the future.  

    Our projects haven’t just benefited our policyholders. The companies providing the safety tools are usually start-ups that have an idea and need real world feedback for improvements. Feedback from our policyholders has helped with the redesign of a leg strap on an exoskeleton and the process of remote consulting. We even helped shorten the onboarding process for one technology from 30 hours down to three, making it much more practical for businesses to adopt.  

    We really appreciate the policyholders who are willing to test something together and see what it could mean to improving safety. It really is like working in the future. 

  • 2021

  • Watch SAIF webinar on exosuits in the workplace

    December 20, 2021 — SAIF’s safety and health innovation and programs (SHIP) team is improving occupational safety and health by expanding knowledge and delivering value.

    By Sarah Ballini-Ross, project manager

    Back injuries in the workplace cost a great deal of money and pain for workers and employers. In the past five years, SAIF has received more than 29,000 back injury claims. More than half of those involved lost workdays – implying more severe injuries. This data supplied a clear path for SAIF’s Safety and Health Innovation and Programs (SHIP) team to explore new ways to reduce back injuries.  

    So, what's one way to address them? Enter the exosuit. You might think of Robert Downey Jr. as Ironman or Sigourney Weaver in the film Aliens when you think of exosuits. The real-life versions aren't as flashy as Hollywood's, but they aren't science fiction anymore.

    Unlike rigid exoskeletons with motors and mechanical parts, soft exosuits like the HeroWear Apex aren't designed to enable wearers to lift more weight or otherwise increase their strength. Sorry - no Ironman here! Rather, they are designed to reduce stress and strain on the back and make workers feel better at the end of a hard day's work. The SHIP team wanted to know if workers would be willing to wear these devices.

    SAIF partnered with four policyholders in industries with a high risk of back injuries (construction, agriculture, and retail business) to determine whether workers would use the exosuit. The four policyholders were Bailey's Nursery, Coastal Farm & Home Supply, Western Partitions Inc., and Whitaker/Ellis Builders Inc. Each policyholder selected 10 employees and identified use cases to test the exosuit for six weeks, providing SAIF with feedback about using the exosuit. Information was collected from employees through four surveys and multiple interviews throughout the learning launch.

    Generally employees were positive about the exosuit. They found it worked best for tasks that required bending and/or heavy lifting. Adoption is highly dependent on the job task, the use of conflicting gear/PPE, and heat. There are jobs and tasks in which the exosuit we tested is useful in its current design and others where further iterations of the technology will be required. The feedback collected during the learning launch resulted in improvements to the exosuit design to resolve issues identified by employees.

    Across the board workers and businesses shared a sense of pride from being part of this learning launch and partnership. Here are just some comments we heard from participants:

    · “It's been a good experience and I'm glad to have gotten to test the suit. After addressing the thigh sleeve issue, suit is much more comfortable.”

    · “I enjoyed the opportunity and experience. Everyone was fantastic to work with, collaborative, and positive.”

    · “It was exciting to be a part of the process. It's like working in the future.”

    If you want to learn more about the learning launch findings, tune into our upcoming webinar, Exosuits in the real world on Thursday, January 6 at 10 am. While the webinar is free and open to anyone (not just SAIF policyholders), we ask that you register ahead of time. Watch the recorded webinar.

    Curious about using exos in your workplace? Contact us at safetyinnovation@saif.com to learn more.

  • How a 100-year-old company is on the cutting edge of safety innovation

    December 6, 2021 — SAIF’s safety and health innovation and programs (SHIP) team is improving occupational safety and health by expanding knowledge and delivering value.

    By Sabrina Freewynn, safety innovation manager

    I love my job. Every day I get to work with an amazing team to tackle challenges that will make a difference for real people working at real companies. I’m the manager for the Safety and Health Innovation and Programs (SHIP) team at SAIF. We are focused on improving occupational safety and health with companies across Oregon.

    SAIF has been around for over 100 years. Often, we want to be perfect before we roll something out with our policyholders. But in my team’s work, perfection is not the point; learning is. We learn best by turning to people who are already doing the job and asking questions. For us, the question is “how might we make this job safer?” For our policyholders it’s also got to be “how might we make this job easier, faster, more productive, or solve another problem we are having?” When we find something that addresses both safety and productivity, we know we are onto something good.

    We are launching this blog to share the information we learn about cutting edge safety technology and technology that improves safety — even if it was originally designed to do something else. Our hope is that it sparks your imagination and gets you asking questions like “how might we use this at our worksite?” and “what would make this even better for our business?”

    We also want to learn from, and feature, you! What kinds of technology do you use that makes work safer or healthier? Are there big challenges you wish something could help address? Not all safety innovation involves technology. We want to know about insights and ideas you use that might be helpful to other companies. Write to us at safetyinnovation@saif.com.


SAIF’s Safety and Health Innovation and Programs (SHIP) is exploring ways to assist policyholders in their injury prevention efforts by identifying problems and seeking out ideas, products, and processes that could be part of solutions. Contact us at safetyinnovation@saif.com.