Logistics workers need back support, and now there’s an exoskeleton as agile as their industry.
Once, while visiting a beverage distributor, I saw workers pick and place over 2,500 cases on pallets in an 8-hour shift. Their speed and skills were incredible, but as a certified professional ergonomist (CPE), I couldn’t help but think about plugging their numbers into the Lifting Fatigue Failure Tool (LiFFT)—and the high probability of risk it would give me. (Experiencing 12 plus injuries per 200,000 hours worked, as defined by Marras et al., 1993). The odds of it being possible for a back injury to occur from this job could basically be reduced to a coin flip.
But logistics shouldn’t have to accept those odds. Here, we’ll look at this industry as one of 5 Industries Ready to Reduce Back Pain with new exosuit technology. Let’s start with a reality.
The Unavoidable Risk
Speed and physical demands create conditions for worker turnover and injury.
Logistics is a complex industry where people and machines work together to move goods around the globe as efficiently and safely as possible. And that will continue for the foreseeable future, as will high rates of injuries and worker turnover.
As an industrial ergonomist for over a decade, I truly feel for the safety professionals who work so hard to keep workers safe and injury free. I understand what it’s like to know how to solve ergonomic problems but not have the right tools. So, as exoskeletons have increasingly shown potential to reduce the risk for injury, I had to ask: Why haven’t they been adopted?
The Big Question
Why haven’t exos seen widespread adoption in logistics?
About five years ago, I got really interested in understanding these devices. How they could support workers. And most curiously, why workers weren’t excited to wear them, even though back-assist exos were effective at reducing strain and fatigue on a user’s lower back.
I fit dozens of exos onto hundreds of workers. And I repeatedly heard the same response: They liked the assistance, but the devices kept getting in the way. Because logistics involves a lot of things besides lifting—like walking, or stepping on and off an electric pallet jack. And who wants to get snagged on shrink wrap or have a harder time than usual reaching far away items? No one.
The Aha Moment
Exos must move at the speed of logistics.
If only exos could assist workers, without slowing them down. That’s what workers were asking for. That’s what I wanted as an industrial ergonomist. And that’s ultimately a big reason why I joined the HeroWear team last year. They shared my passion for developing a practical, effective solution for hardworking men and women.
Joining the company preproduct, the big aha moment for me was when we gave workers at the beverage distributor the ability to try five different back-assist exoskeletons. Each exo was a product, except for the HeroWear prototype. Yet over 90 percent of the workers preferred our prototype. Why? Because it supported the back but felt like clothing.
The Ready Solution
The HeroWear Apex offers incredible range of motion.
Our HeroWear team listened deeply and used worker input to finalize our newly launched product: the Apex exosuit. And it’s ready to protect the backs of those pulling together orders on warehouse floors and those pushing out packages on last mile delivery. The HeroWear Apex won’t restrict their movement or slow them down. Because it’s lightweight, weighing just over three pounds without motors or batteries. Because it’s modular, custom fitting both genders and different body sizes. Because this exosuit moves at the speed of logistics.
This article is the first of five in our 5 Industries Ready to Reduce Back Pain series. Read all five to see how the manufacturing, construction, agriculture, and healthcare sectors can benefit from new, work-ready exoskeleton technology.