Lifting, holding, putting down, pushing, pulling, carrying or moving of a load are manual handling activities carried out by one or more workers. Manual handling occurs in almost all working environments (factories, warehouses, building sites, farms, hospitals, offices etc) and the load carried can be animate (a person or animal) or inanimate (an object).
Lifting heavy objects increases the risk of lower-back pain and fatigue that can lead to an increase in muscle activation, stretch of ligaments and posterior disc, and loss of balance.
Due to the health and safety risks that employees face, employees at a hardware store called Lowe and a team of engineering students at Virginia Tech College of Engineering recently teamed up to explore a new innovation called exo-suits. Exo-suits are a wearable mobile machine that is driven by a coordinated system of electric motors, pneumatics, levers, hydraulics, or a combination of technologies that allow for limb movement with increased strength and endurance.
After months of testing and research, the wearable robotic suits were developed to help frequent carriers of heavy loads go about their work in an easier manner by reinforcing correct lifting posture and improving their performance.
The suit is worn over regular clothes to make it comfortable and flexible. It is designed to make sure the wearer is surrounded over the shoulders, and around the chest, waist and thighs.
The carbon fiber in the back and the legs of the exosuit can be likened to a bowstring transmitting energy when released to send an arrow flying. This exosuit stores energy when users bend down and that energy is fed back as users straighten up. Wearing the exo-suit means you exert less effort to complete a lot of labor-intensive tasks, such as lifting and carrying heavy materials.
35% of all workers are exposed to the risk of carrying or moving heavy loads for at least a quarter of their working time according to a survey carried out in the EU-27 in 2005. Skilled agriculture and fishery workers, craft and related trades workers, plant and machine operators and assemblers have high exposure rates in manual handling especially young workers.
Seeing something radically different when it comes to manual handling shows what the future holds in minimizing potential work-related hazards and injuries.