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Study participants wanted: Researchers to explore exoskeletons in construction

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Silver Spring, MD — A projected five-year study on the use of exoskeletons to curb ergonomics issues in construction is in need of participants for the first of its four phases, researchers said during a Jan. 29 webinar facilitated by CPWR – The Center for Construction Research and Training.

Carisa Harris, director of the ergonomics program at the University of California, Berkeley and UC San Francisco and a professor at both schools, said her research team is looking for workers from different trades from construction companies of all sizes to complete a 30- to 45-minute survey. They plan to interview participants in English or Spanish via a smartphone link.

Harris said her team also is seeking three to five workers in roofing, flooring, concrete grinding, tuck-point grinding and drywall installation for a two-hour focus group.

The researchers said they plan to look into how exoskeletons might help prevent shoulder or back injuries among construction workers, as well as aid workers with these issues. Back injuries accounted for 43% of nonfatal occupational injuries in construction in 2018, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, while shoulder injuries accounted for 16%. Construction workers with shoulder injuries, however, had a median of 25 lost workdays, compared with eight for those with back injuries.

 

After gathering data, the researchers plan to test the effectiveness of commercially available exoskeletons in simulations. Beginning around the three-year mark, they are slated to assess the devices in real-world settings, develop guidelines for exoskeleton use and disseminate their findings.

“Exoskeleton technology is rapidly emerging and presents a clear opportunity to reduce physical demands and perhaps even enhance worker performance,” Maury Nussbaum, a Virginia Tech professor and director of the VT Occupational Safety and Health Research Center, said during the webinar.

Anyone interested in participating in the study can email ucergonomics@gmail.com or nussbaum@vt.edu.

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