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Benefits and Challenges of Exoskeleton Use in Construction

Benefits and Challenges of Exoskeleton Use in Construction

Oct. 9, 2023
Exoskeletons, in some uses, are simple, lightweight, comfortable and easy-to-use, however there can be risks such as friction and shear injury from contact with body regions.

Given the fact that construction workers are at t high risk for work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WMSDs). many companies are turning to exoskeletons, both passive and active, to alleviate injuries.

Passive exoskeletons support a posture or movement using unpowered mechanisms (e.g., springs, dampers, or counterbalance forces), whereas active exoskeletons involve powered force/torque generating elements (e.g., electric motors, pneumatics, or hydraulics).

A NIOSH Science blog, published a study, that looked into In a study  preventing MSK injuries using exoskeletons. The articles notes the  increasing interest in the use of wearable exoskeletons in the prevention of WMSDs in construction workplaces because of cost, portability, and potential effectiveness.

The blog summed up both the benefits and challenges of using exoskeletons in construction. 

Potential Benefits

  • Exoskeletons have the potential to serve as an ergonomic intervention to assist construction workers who are performing manual repetitive handling tasks and reduce risk of WMSD.
  • Exoskeletons have demonstrated, in some uses, to be simple, lightweight, comfortable and easy-to-use by workers.
  • Exoskeletons can help managers and safety and health professionals to mitigate the risks of developing WMSDs among construction workers and enhance worker safety.

Potential Challenges

More research is needed to determine the:

  •  Most existing exoskeleton assessments were conducted in laboratory settings, involving healthy, young participants, making it difficult to generalize the results to actual worksites and to other populations (such as older workers or those who have experienced physical disabilities or previous injuries).
  • Impact on time-to-completion measures, product flow rates, and/or work quality.
  • Acceptability of specific exoskeletons by workers.
  • Cost-benefit comparison between construction trade-specific applications of exoskeletons and other interventions.
  • Potential risks of exoskeleton use such as friction and shear injury from contact with body regions; joint hyperextension risks; unintended contact, collision, vibration, and overexertion; and worker instability.
About the Author

EHS Today Staff

EHS Today's editorial staff includes:

Dave Blanchard, Editor-in-Chief: During his career Dave has led the editorial management of many of Endeavor Business Media's best-known brands, including IndustryWeekEHS Today, Material Handling & LogisticsLogistics Today, Supply Chain Technology News, and Business Finance. In addition, he serves as senior content director of the annual Safety Leadership Conference. With over 30 years of B2B media experience, Dave literally wrote the book on supply chain management, Supply Chain Management Best Practices (John Wiley & Sons, 2021), which has been translated into several languages and is currently in its third edition. He is a frequent speaker and moderator at major trade shows and conferences, and has won numerous awards for writing and editing. He is a voting member of the jury of the Logistics Hall of Fame, and is a graduate of Northern Illinois University.

Adrienne Selko, Senior Editor: In addition to her roles with EHS Today and the Safety Leadership Conference, Adrienne is also a senior editor at IndustryWeek and has written about many topics, with her current focus on workforce development strategies. She is also a senior editor at Material Handling & Logistics. Previously she was in corporate communications at a medical manufacturing company as well as a large regional bank. She is the author of Do I Have to Wear Garlic Around My Neck?, which made the Cleveland Plain Dealer's best sellers list.

Nicole Stempak, Managing Editor:  Nicole Stempak is managing editor of EHS Today and conference content manager of the Safety Leadership Conference.

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