Creating workplaces where we all watch out for each other

Creating workplaces where we all watch out for each other


Online tool designed to identify ‘the right places’ to use workplace exoskeletons

First published by Safety+Health an NSC publication

Photo: Vanderbilt University

Nashville, TN — A free online tool developed by researchers at Vanderbilt University is intended to help employers assess how and where exoskeletons could help reduce work-related back injuries “without the need for costly and time-consuming experiments.”

Exoskeletons are used in a variety of industries to relieve physical strain and overexertion, which accounts for 38.5% of work-related musculoskeletal disorders, a university press release states, citing data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Exo-LiFFT is an interactive calculator designed to help employers who are “looking for ways to overcome workforces struggling with musculoskeletal injuries, missed work and accelerated retirement amongst skilled laborers.”

The tool was developed in collaboration with industrial engineers from Auburn University and an ergonomist from a supplier of workforce wearables. The researchers, from Vanderbilt’s Center for Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology, project that exoskeleton use in material handling has the potential to reduce back injuries up to 60%.

The free tool is available in three versions: an online calculator for either single or multitask assessment or as a downloadable Excel worksheet.

“If we can identify the right places to deploy exoskeletons, then they can reduce injury risks as well as bodily discomfort, which impacts workers on the job and at home,” Karl Zelik, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at Vanderbilt, said in the release. “Exoskeletons may also help improve worker recruitment and retention, which have been costly pain points for employers amidst the labor shortage.”

Further details of the tool were explored in a study published online Nov. 2 in the journal Applied Ergonomics.

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