Exoskeletons used in the workplace are referred to as “industrial exoskeletons.” Their purpose is to augment, amplify, or reinforce the performance of a worker’s existing body components—primarily the lower back and the upper extremity (arms and shoulders). Despite a lack of research, manufacturers of these devices claim productivity gains, work quality improvements, and a reduction of the risk of work‐related musculoskeletal disorders (WMSDs). A new commentary from NIOSH in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine highlights some of the potential benefits and risks of industrial exoskeletons. The article cautions that before widespread implementation of industrial exoskeletons occurs, research is needed to evaluate the effectiveness of exoskeletons across various industry sectors.
In the United States, the economic impact of WMSDs is increasing rapidly. WMSDs accounted for an aggregate economic impact of $367.1 billion in 1996, and $796.3 billion in 2009‐2011, an increase of 117%.,. If exoskeletons achieved reductions in the mechanical stressors associated with manual materials handling tasks, they would have the potential to reduce high rates of WMSDs seen in many industries.