Crash Course For Your Exoskeleton Study
by Nathan Gonzalez
Need some tips on supporting an exoskeleton study at your site? Work Right’s got you!
Exoskeletons have a growing demand and interest in the occupational setting, where repetitive job tasks cannot be engineered out or eliminated. In the study conducted by Terry Butler and Jason Gillette, Exoskeletons: Used as PPE for Injury Prevention, they specifically looked at how upper body exoskeletons can “improve upper extremity musculoskeletal health” in trade workers who engage in repetitive overhead or static positioning of the arms.
The specific objective of using an upper body exoskeleton device is to reduce fatigue on shoulder musculature, which with consistent use, can decrease chronic strain of the shoulder and improve productivity and job performance.
CONDUCT A BASELINE ERGONOMIC ASSESSMENT
As you begin implementing any type of new PPE or ergonomic improvement, conducting a baseline ergonomic assessment should be done. From there, you can assess the impact on the specific risk you’re trying to address, which will validate your efforts and increase stakeholder support.
We recommend using a REBA or RULA assessment for this step. Specific to any study involving upper body exoskeletons, The Shoulder Tool can also be a great resource to measure the degree of fatigue and exposure with shoulder intensive tasks.
UNDERSTAND THE DESIGN AND ASK QUESTIONS
Next, get a thorough understanding of the design of the exoskeleton and think to yourself:
– How heavy is this device and will it need to be taken on and off frequently?
– Does the device require lots of fine-tuning adjustments to fit a variety of people (think anthropometrics!)?
– Is the material fire-rated and does it meet required standards for the specific task or work environment that it’s being used in?
– What if there is an emergency, how quickly can the device be removed; is there a single release point or series of straps to maneuver?
MEASURE PERCEPTION AND FEELING
Finally, it’s a good idea to measure how difficult the task is perceived to be by the worker and how they typically feel physically after the task is completed. So, measure the worker’s RPE and ask if they tend to experience any soreness or discomfort as a result. This should be done with and without the use of the exoskeleton.
About Nathan Gonzalez, LAT, ATC, CMMSS
Nathan is a member of the corporate team at WRNW and has spent nearly a decade working with industrial athletes and teams as an Athletic Trainer, Certified Medical Management Safety Specialist, and account manager. Nathan finds the best way to push the pendulum towards injury prevention is through being curious, getting on a worker’s level, and developing trusting relationships at all levels of an organization