4 Key Occupational Exoskeleton Developments to Keep in Mind from 2020

By: | December 17, 2020

Matthew Marino is the Director of Ergonomics and Human Performance with HeroWear, LLC. Matt is an expert in exoskeleton and wearable technology design, testing, and implementation. By combining this expertise with his experience in ergonomics, human performance optimization, and rehabilitation, Matt is interested in leveraging cutting edge technology, science and methods to solve difficult problems, optimize performance, and help people pursue healthy, high-quality lives. He can be reached at [email protected].

Occupational exoskeletons are a growing domain of wearable technology designed to assist workers who perform physically demanding jobs.

Exos seek to reduce injury risk for commonly injured body parts and are gaining traction in the workplace.

There has been significant progress with exoskeleton standards, research and device development this year. Much has changed in 2020, including the fact that exos are supporting more workers who go to work every day at high risk jobs across numerous industries.

This is just a brief summary of a few of the important 2020 exo developments that might be of interest to risk control and insurance stakeholders.

1) CNA Risk Control added an exoskeleton producer to its Allied Vendor program.

CNA identifies companies offering products and services outside of their capabilities that may improve risk control and reduce costly injuries.

The Levitate Technologies AIRFRAME shoulder-assist exoskeleton was added in 2020 to CNA’s list of Allied Vendors following a trial that resulted in reduced injury risk and performance improvements for workers in the construction industry.

2) Wash. State Dept. of L&I published a process update for using exoskeletons for return-to-work.

The Washington State Department of Labor and Industries formed an Exoskeleton Advisory Committee in early 2018.

The committee created a process to guide companies on safe and effective use of occupational exoskeletons for supporting workers seeking return to work following an injury.

An updated version of the process was published in September 2020.

3) ASTM F48 Committee on Exoskeletons and Exosuits created the new F48.06 subcommittee.

ASTM International is a global standards organization that publishes consensus standards, including those for exoskeletons.

The ASTM F48 Committee on Exoskeletons and Exosuits was created in early 2017 to develop standards to ensure that products are safe, reliable and effective.

In 2020 the F48 Committee created the new F48.06 subcommittee and is seeking participation from insurance, risk control and legal experts interested in creating important new standards.

4) The ASTM Exo Technology Center of Excellence accelerated exoskeleton standards development.

In late 2019, ASTM International created the Exo Technology Center of Excellence (ET CoE). The ET CoE is a collaboration between ASTM and consumers, industry, government, health care and academia whose focus is to accelerate safety, quality and reliability standards for exoskeletons.

In 2020, the ET CoE performed and assisted numerous R&D projects, including an exoskeleton producer survey, collaboration with NIOSH on a long-term exoskeleton study, and by funding university research projects to drive the development of standard test methods.

The ET CoE has also facilitated or participated in global outreach and education efforts such as an expert panel discussion on exoskeleton classification (e.g. PPE) and the Wearable Robotics Association-sponsored Automotive Exoskeleton Group (AExG).

The ET CoE has been working to build relationships and bring together an international network.

Whatever It Takes to Keep Workers Safe

2020 has been an unprecedented year. People have done strenuous essential work throughout the pandemic, and they will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

For many workers, the physical demands of their jobs can lead to costly and debilitating injuries. Occupational exoskeletons are a new solution to reduce the strain, fatigue and injury risk for some high-risk workers.

While it’s still early for exos and there is much more to learn about them and improve, some promising examples have emerged.

In early 2019 Toyota made shoulder-assist exos mandatory PPE for certain team members who perform overhead work. At 2020 conferences, they reported injury reductions for those jobs.

If outcomes like this continue with more exos entering workplaces around the globe in 2021, there is a chance that fewer workers will suffer injuries and more people will go home each day with greater energy to enjoy life. &

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