The development of exoskeletons is driving workers’ compensation in a positive direction. This includes developing technology to avoid workplace injuries and allowing an employee to recover from a work injury to return to work promptly. While this technology is in its infancy, it holds a lot of potential that interested stakeholders should educate themselves on and prepare to use in the near future.
What is An Exoskeleton?
The concept of a human exoskeleton is not new. The idea has been in research and development since the late 1800s and is based on the theory of electric motors, pneumatics, levers, and hydraulics can make a person move heavier objects with ease. It also can allow a person to work longer without suffering the consequences activities of daily living place on the human body; this means avoiding repetitive trauma injuries. While various models have been on the drawing board, the major drawback is the added mechanics, weight, and bulk that can limit other movements and the ability to perform certain types of work.
While exoskeletons have mainly been developed for military applications, many other uses can reduce injuries and allow employees to get back to work quickly following a work injury. This should include a review of how the technology is currently being used within the modern workplace.
Case Study: Ford Motor Company
Ford Motor Company is currently using exoseleton technology on many of its motor vehicle production lines to improve workplace productivity and reduce workers’ compensation claims. This comes in the form of a wearable vest called the EksoVest, which raises an employee’s arms and provides support when performing activities at chest level or above. It also lessens employee fatigue and prevents work injuries.
This technology has been in use since the mid-2000s on various Ford Motor Company assembly lines. A review of these vests has had an immediate and positive impact:
- An 83% decrease in work injuries that resulted in time away from work – a continued declined every year since 2005;
- Flexibility to use the technology on employees of most sizes and body shapes – available for anyone between 5′, to 6′ 4″; and
- Lightweight technology that does not have limitations of most exoskeletons. This allows the employee to move freely.
The exoskeletons used at Ford Motor Company are adaptive to dynamic workplaces. According to Russ Angold, co-founder and chief technology officer of Ekso Bionics, who developed the EksoVest, “Collaboratively working with Ford enabled us to test and refine early prototypes of the EksoVest based on insights directly from their production line workers. The end result is a wearable tool that reduces the strain on a worker’s body, reducing the likelihood of injury, and helping them feel better at the end of the day – increasing both productivity and morale.”
Benefits to a Work Comp Program
There are several key benefits use of exoskeleton technology can bring to workplaces that require employees to perform repetitive duties. As is the case with Ford Motor Company, it can also assist employees who are required to do work that requires someone to stand and/or perform overhead duties.
- Work injury reduction: Exoskeletons have been proven to reduce workplace injuries. While there needs to be an investment in the technology, savings will be realized in any workers’ compensation program’s bottom line.
- Improved technology: Exoskeleton technology is advancing every day. Common problems such as added weight and the ability to adapt it to a work environment are being replaced with lightweight models that fit a large variety of the workforce.
- Return to work: Exoskeletons can also be employed to assist injured employees to return to work within restrictions. The technology allows the employee to move larger items with ease and less force. They are also able to work for longer periods of time.
Exoskeleton technology is here, and it is not limited to science fiction movies. It has a practical application in the workplace. This includes reducing the frequency and severity of work injuries and allows the injured employee to return to work quickly.
Author Michael Stack, CEO Amaxx LLC. He is an expert in workers’ compensation cost containment systems and helps employers reduce their workers’ comp costs by 20% to 50%. He works as a consultant to large and mid-market clients, is a co-author of Your Ultimate Guide To Mastering Workers Comp Costs, a comprehensive step-by-step manual of cost containment strategies based on hands-on field experience, and is the founder & lead trainer of Amaxx Workers’ Comp Training Center, which offers the Certified Master of Workers’ Compensation national designation.
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