Key Takeaways
  • This article examines the potential consideration of exoskeletons as PPE for shoulder injury prevention.

  • It provides a brief introduction to injury prevention and ergonomic assessment, and examines studies that have investigated shoulder muscle fatigue and ergonomic assessments of exoskeletons.

  • The authors introduce a series of studies conducted to assess the potential use of exoskeletons as PPE.

  • Test methods presented provide quantitative data to support decisions about whether exoskeletons should be classified as PPE.

This article focuses on the prevention of shoulder musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) commonly associated with muscle fatigue and repetitive overuse in an occupational setting. The authors' purpose and motivation are the potential consideration of exoskeletons as PPE for shoulder injury prevention. An upper body exoskeleton is a wearable technology engineered to improve upper extremity musculoskeletal health in professionals and skilled trade workers who engage in repetitive arm motion or static elevation of the arms. Some upper body exoskeletons (such as the one shown in the photos on pp. 32 and 34) are lightweight and transfer the weight of the arms from the shoulders, neck and upper back to the body's core, evenly distributing energy to reduce stress.

Injury Prevention & Ergonomic Assessment

OSHA offers advice for evaluating how to best protect a worker from injury. The first step is to try to eliminate the hazard. When elimination is not possible, it is best to identify a suitable engineering control. If that does not work, then the use of administrative controls should be considered. For example, a study found that welding tasks entail the risk of developing supraspinatus tendinitis and that shoulder pain decreased after relaxation and job modification (Herberts, Kadefors, Andersson, et al., 1981). Unfortunately, workers are sometimes expected to push through the pain associated with poorly designed jobs because an injury prevention solution is expensive to implement. Lastly, where the hazard cannot be eliminated or controlled, PPE must be used. PPE is any device or appliance designed to be worn by an individual when exposed to one or more safety and health hazards.

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