Back in April, our team was approached by researchers at Conestoga College's Canadian Institute for Safety, Wellness, & Performance (CISWP) about an exciting research study that they are conducting to investigate the adoption of exoskeleton technology in the Construction Sector.
Construction workers are at high risk of workplace injuries, particularly musculoskeletal disorders (MSD) such as low-back injuries, rotator cuff injuries, tendinitis, and carpal tunnel syndrome, which often result from repetitive and forceful movements and awkward and static postures. According to Workplace Insurance Board statistics, MSD accounts for 38% of all lost time claims, costing businesses billions of dollars due to worker absence, lost productivity, and other indirect costs. Early exits from the labour market, due to workplace injuries, have contributed to the looming workforce shortage experienced by the construction industry. Are wearable exoskeletons a potential solution?
The research team at CISWP has focused on creating evidence-informed strategies to improve and sustain the health and safety of workers and address workforce retention challenges. Wearable passive exoskeletons are gaining popularity as a potential solution to augment, enable, assist, and enhance a worker’s physical capacity. Passive exoskeletons could play a role in reducing the risk of MSD, as they are designed to redistribute the load, absorb shocks, and absorb a portion of the effective weight to minimize the problematic high forceful exertions.
CISWP researchers met with one of our Sierra Bridge crews in downtown Kitchener. With three weeks of drilling nearly 3,000 holes and chipping concrete for the Schneider Creek culvert, our crew would be putting a lot of strain on their upper bodies with the consistent overhead work. This job was the perfect project to see how using a wearable exoskeleton can impact the body performing various tasks on a construction site. Having used Hilti exoskeletons on the odd job before, our team was excited to learn more about how these tools could help our crews.
With two days on and two days off, this study allowed the researchers (as well as our team) to see the amount of physical demands needed for a job of this scale, and how easily fatigue sets in when working in consistent and repetitive movements all day, with and without an exoskeleton's assistance. With multiple check-ins throughout the day and by using cutting-edge wearable technology and research equipment, the researchers were able to investigate the impact of exoskeletons on our workers’ cumulative fatigue and performance. Unfortunately, the current studies have not focused on investigating the effects of exoskeletons with actual construction workers as participants and at worksites or environments representative of actual working conditions. This has rendered existing research findings less transferrable to real work settings and is a recognized barrier in the adoption and implementation of exoskeletons in the construction sector; a barrier that CISWP hopes to break.
It really helped and was actually great for my posture. - Sierra Bridge Employee Feedback
Although exoskeletons show initial promise in reducing injury risk, they have not been readily adopted and implemented by construction businesses. In response, CISWP researchers, funded by federal and provincial research granting agencies, have focused on improving the adoption and implementation of exoskeleton technologies in the skilled trades. This ongoing research evaluates the daylong and multi-day effects of exoskeleton usage on worker fatigue, productivity and performance, and injury symptoms. Initial findings suggest the potential benefit of exoskeletons in reducing MSD pain symptoms in multiple body regions.
Sierra Construction Group is proud to be included in such an important study to help not only our team, but the whole of the industry, stay safe on site! We can’t wait to read more about their research and their findings throughout the study, and learn more about the different ways we can continue to keep our team safe on-site.