Do manual handling workers need exoskeletons?

Workers who manually handle heavy items can wear industrial exoskeletons to help make lifting and carrying easier. An exoskeleton is a wearable device that increases strength and endurance. They are either active with motors and hydraulics, or passive relying on human movement to power springs and dampers.

Manufacturers of these devices claim that they reduce strain injuries, increase productivity and workers gain stamina. These benefits seem clear, but researchers have found that the devices have drawbacks. Studies found that exoskeletons do reduce muscle activity and reduce muscle fatigue when lifting, but they reduce the range of motion and are uncomfortable to wear. Devices are heavy and create contact pressure. They increase muscle activity on some parts of the body, particularly the legs, suggesting that perhaps the disadvantages of exoskeletons outweigh their advantages.

Workers who perform other tasks along with manual handling goods find it inconvenient to regularly put on and take off cumbersome exoskeleton devices. Another disadvantage of exoskeletons compared to manual handling equipment is that they are expensive, costing more than £3m000.

There has been research to producing lighter devices, but so far, only prototype models have been produced. Exoskeletons have the promise of revolutionising how workers manually handle heavy loads, but currently, their potential has not been realised.

Until exoskeleton designs become a lot more efficient, companies will continue to rely on warehouse equipment manufacturers to produce manual handling equipment such as trolleys that enable workers to safely, and to easily move heavy items around the workplace.

Posted by Mark
9th October 2018
Health & Safety

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