New tech tackles upper body disorders
Interest in the practical utilisation of exoskeletons in real-world settings has increased in recent years.
The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work described exoskeletons in 2019 thus: “The idea of supporting human activities with automation and mechanisation such as robots and robotic devices is not recent. Robots and robotic devices, such as exoskeletons, typically perform or support the performance of tasks to improve the quality of life of intended users, irrespective of age or capability.”
However, although the technology, and the concept itself may not be new, wearable solutions have been relatively rare in practice to date.
Exoskeletons provide advantages
With an aging population now one of the major challenges confronting 21st century Europe, exoskeletons may turn out to be the warmly welcomed, low-threshold solution to help many businesses keep their competent and experienced employees at work for longer than previously was thought possible. At the same time, exoskeletons have the potential to help employees maintain their health and wellbeing despite conducting tasks that might otherwise be considered physically too demanding or strenuous.
Exoskeletons offer a potential solution especially in work environments where there are few alternatives to changing the way the task is performed. Exoskeletons can also provide a major advantage in those situations when an employee needs physical support and additional strength to be able to optimally execute tasks in their work.
Reduction of upper-body strain in manual work
At Vaasan, and particularly in their dispatch area, a significant part of employees’ work includes physical tasks, such as manual lifting.
Exoskeletons are one option for employers to consider when looking for solutions that can support human capabilities in a positive way. The study found that, wearable measurement devices provided a good way to identify and monitor work phases that were the most strenuous. That said, although exoskeletons help to reduce physical stress, they will not solve all the issues relating to ergonomics. To further ensure employee safety, clear and concise instructions for good ergonomics, regular breaks, as well as careful workplace and system design, will continue to be of critical importance also in the future.
European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (2019). The impact of using exoskeletons on occupational safety and health. Discussion paper. Available: The impact of using exoskeletons on occupational safety and health - Safety and health at work - EU-OSHA (europa.eu)
European Agency for Safety and Health at Work & Istituto Nazionale per l’Assicurazione contro gli Infortuni sul Lavoro (INAIL) (2020): Occupational exoskeletons: Wearable robotic devices to prevent work-related musculoskeletal disorders in the workplace of the future. Discussion paper. Available: Occupational exoskeletons: wearable robotic devices and preventing work-related musculoskeletal disorders in the workplace of the future - Safety and health at work - EU-OSHA (europa.eu)
Patrikainen, T. 2020. Upper extremity workload in bakery’s dispatch department- Wearable technology for assessing physical workload. Faculty of Sport and Health Sciences, University of Jyväskylä, Sport and Exercise Medicine Master’s thesis, 54 pp., 2 appendices.