Injuries from handling and lifting loads can occur in several occupations, whereby workers are exposed to risk when they lower, lift or carry objects. Risk factors include:
- Load weight
- Proximity of the load to the body
- Load size and shape
- Distance the load must be carried
- Initial height of the load, as well as vertical distance lifted
- Lifting in combination with bending or twisting
- How long the load must be carried
- Number and frequency of lifts performed
Add to those heavy lifting requirements, and you’ve got injuries arising from repetitive motions as well. With employees performing over-head motions, for example, several thousand times a day in many cases, overuse injuries abound.
Exoskeletons can solve both injury types and problems.
Reduction of Musculoskeletal Loads
From a workplace health and safety standpoint, wearable exoskeleton devices are beneficial in reducing musculoskeletal loads that would not otherwise be helped by an engineering process change, says the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
It’s long been known that lifting and handling of heavy materials while also supporting heavy tools are both contributors to musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) and fatigue. MSDs account for about 30 percent of lost time workplace illnesses and injuries. In fact, the direct costs of injuries owed to overexertion with an outside source (lifting, pushing, turning, pulling, throwing, catching) hit $13.7 billion in 2018, equal to 23 percent of the overall national burden.
Exoskeletons are designed to support the lower back or joints during dynamic lifting, stooped working postures, static load holding and general support. Many studies have measured muscle activity, spinal loading, effort and muscle fatigue. They have found that:
- Passive devices assisting with dynamic lifting reduce muscle activity by between 10 and 40 percent, reduce spinal loading by between 23 and 29 percent, and reduce overall muscle fatigue.
- Passive devices that help with static trunk bending can reduce muscle activity by between 10 and 25 percent and spinal loading by between 12 and 13 percent.
Workplace injuries affect the health of employees as well as the company’s bottom line. When there are fewer workers are injured on the job, there’s not as much need to hire and train people to fill in for those who are recuperating.
Every company’s risks are unique. That’s why it’s possible for different companies to work with manufacturers to design exoskeletons encompassing features addressing their precise needs.