Our NYC workers’ comp attorneys explain how the technology can become a hazard
Advanced wearable safety devices known as “industrial exoskeletons” have been hailed by workplace safety advocates for helping to prevent workplace accidents, which often result in injured workers pursuing workers’ compensation benefits.
However, a recent scientific study raises concerns about the cognitive effects on the brain while workers wear industrial exoskeleton devices. "This is the first study looking into the brain as a user was performing a lifting task wearing a back exoskeleton," Texas A&M University associated professor Ranjana Mehta said in a recent interview with Science Daily.
Mehta co-authored the study of the cognitive effects of industrial exoskeleton devices with fellow researchers from Texas A&M and Ohio State University. Mehta works in the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering and serves as the director of the university’s NeuroErgonomics Laboratory.
What is an industrial exoskeleton?
Wearable industrial exoskeleton devices provide physical support for workers required to lift heavy objects. Often worn on the back and shoulders, such mechanical devices often allow workers to lift extremely heavy objects they would otherwise not be able to move on their own.
There are two main types of industrial exoskeletons:
- Passive industrial exoskeleton – These types of devices are powered by natural human movement, often using a series of springs and counterbalance forces.
- Active industrial exoskeleton – These types of devices are powered by electric motors, hydraulic devices, and other technological tools. The person wearing the device operates the exoskeleton like other industrial machines. As a result, these types of industrial exoskeletons are sometimes referred to as “robotic exoskeletons.”
What are the benefits of industrial exoskeleton devices?
Industrial exoskeleton devices have several intended benefits. These include:
- Fewer employee injuries, particularly lower back injuries due to lifting heavy objects.
- Increased productivity since workers wearing these devices can lift heavier objects or move more objects at one time.
- Improved workplace safety.
Because industrial exoskeleton devices can be potentially beneficial, many companies have spent billions of dollars on such devices. In recent years, the annual economic benefit of industrial exoskeleton devices (due to fewer workplace injuries and increased productivity) has been estimated to be nearly $800 billion each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Even so, workers who wear industrial exoskeletons can still be severely injured in a workplace accident.
What are the risks of industrial exoskeleton devices?
The recent study conducted by researchers from Texas A&M and Ohio State University highlighted a concern about industrial exoskeleton devices not previously addressed in other studies – worker distraction.
In the study, researchers asked workers to perform simple mathematical problems while wearing an industrial exoskeleton device. The study found that when workers had to perform mathematical problems while operating the device, “they lost whatever biomechanical benefits were offered by the exoskeleton in the first place,” Science Daily reported.
"We wanted to shed some light on how the use of an industrial exoskeleton impacts the worker's motor and cognitive capabilities, given that the worker has to learn new motor strategies to work efficiently while wearing exoskeletons to do their work,” Mehta said in an interview with Science Daily.
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You might think you don’t need an attorney if you got hurt at work in an accident. Injured workers in New York automatically receive workers’ compensation benefits to cover the cost of their medical expenses and a portion of their lost wages, right?
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