Exoskeleton technology has become an important part of risk management and worker health. Briotix is leading the way in discovering the best applications for this cutting-edge technology.
Exoskeletons come in a variety of designs, each with a specific purpose. In the medical space, exoskeletons have been used for rehabilitation purposes, and they have also made an appearance in the military space for the purpose of improved soldier performance. But this technology is just starting to be considered for industrial and commercial purposes.
“This space is really new,” says Matthew Marino, Lead Ergonomist & Physical Therapist at Briotix. “But there are so many potential benefits. There is very little data available, but some scientific studies have demonstrated EMG reductions [while using an exoskeleton]. We’re seeing that an employee’s muscles don’t have to work as hard with the exoskeletons as they do without.”
These results, though small and unconfirmed, have profound meaning for the worker health and risk management industry.
“Lifting is such a big problem, especially in the US, for work-related injury,” Marino says. “With a passive back support exoskeleton like the SuitX’s BackX, , for example, we may be able to offset 15, 20, even 30 pounds and help an employee to lift with a greater level of safety.”
Exoskeletons can not only allow a worker to complete a task with less effort and thus less risk for injury, but some exoskeleton technology can provide workers with feedback to ensure safer behaviors.
“We know neutral is better than awkward posture and we know the body can perform at a higher level in the proper posture,” Marino says. “Some devices can act as postural support devices.”
Marino uses the example of a vest-like ergoskeleton device made by StrongArm Technologies, Inc.
“It gives them feedback when they are bending and twisting during a lift,” he explains. “It doesn’t help them with the lift, but it cues them about their posture.”
Another device that could help with injury prevention in the workplace is an exoskeleton that acts as a “chair-less chair, like the device made by noonee,” says Marino.
“These are exoskeletons that you wear on your body, sort of like a backpack,” he says. “Posts or legs follow behind you and you can sit down wherever you want. For prolonged standing jobs where people have no option to sit because maybe it isn’t safe to have a chair in the work area, they could wear this device and be able to sit down.”
Injury prevention isn’t the only benefit of exoskeleton technology, though. These devices also have potential for improving return-to-work programs and productivity.
Take, for example, the AIRFRAME by Levitate Technologies, a shoulder support exoskeleton that holds up the weight of the arm. For a welder or painter—anyone that works with their arms at or above shoulder level for a large percentage of their work day—this device could allow them to work in an awkward position for a longer period of time with significantly less effort.
“A device like that not only has the potential to reduce the risk of injury, but also has potential to improve work quality and productivity,” Marino says. “Like in the case of a welder: a supported arm can weld a straighter line more quickly with less rework, so it improve productivity and reduce costs.”
There is no doubt that exoskeletons have incredible potential in the worker health and risk management space. But this space requires far more research to understand the full scope of impacts associated with exoskeleton use, some of which may or may not be positive. To learn more about exoskeletons and their use in the workplace, Marino has been utilizing another impressive technology: wearable sensors. Read more about that work here.