The Center for Disease Control (CDC) says wearable power-assisted suits that help keep workers safer, healthier, and stronger are a finding their way into workplaces and project the likelihood of encountering one on a co-worker will increase significantly in the next five years.
The new wearables are classified as passive or active.
Passive systems require no external power and use springs, elastic cords, or other resilient elements to provide either a restoring moment that unloads the low back muscles, or additional vertical lift force to augment arm and shoulder muscles when supporting tools or materials.
More complex active exoskeleton systems use electric servo-motors and powered actuators on an external frame with joints matched to those of the worker. The actuators augment the joint torque of the wearer so he or she can handle external loads with less effort than in their unassisted capability. These devices are already common in rehabilitation and assistive therapy.
Why would you want one, other than to just look cool? Liberty Mutual Insurance Company estimated the direct costs of injuries due to overexertion involving an outside source (from lifting, pushing, pulling, turning, throwing, or catching) to be $15.1 billion in 2012 – representing one quarter of the total workplace injury direct costs (Liberty Mutual, 2014).
Interested? Want to try one in your workplace? Read the CDC/NIOSH story here.