Mining Contract: Exoskeletons as an Innovative Approach to Prevent Musculoskeletal Disorders in Surface Stone Mining
This research addresses work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WMSD) risk reduction using a recent innovative intervention: occupational exoskeletons. Exoskeletons are wearable systems that can assist, support, or augment the wearer during various physical activities. Existing evidence supports that use of an exoskeleton is a promising approach to control WMSD risk and improve work performance for several occupational tasks. This is particularly the case for passive exoskeletons (with no electrical power source), which are more mature than emerging powered exoskeletons. At present, however, there is no evidence of this risk reduction with exoskeletons specific to the mining industry. In this research, opportunities and barriers to exoskeleton adoption will be identified, task-specific evaluations of exoskeleton efficacy will be completed, and guidance on exoskeleton implementation strategies—with a long-term goal of advancing exoskeletons in mining to prevent WMSDs—will be developed.
Contract Status & Impact
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Work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WMSDs) of the back and the upper extremities are an important problem in surface mining for which new, effective intervention methods are needed.
For this contract, the immediate goal is to develop an initial, practical knowledge base to enable the safe adoption and effective use of passive exoskeletons for selected manual tasks in surface mining. The long-term goal is to support the safe and effective adoption and use of exoskeletons to control WMSD risks in mining by developing practical exoskeleton implementation strategies and guidelines.
This work supports the goal of the MINER Act mandate to “enhance the development of new mine safety technology and technological applications.” Specifically, the work will provide evidence to: (1) demonstrate the potential for exoskeleton (EXO) technology to improve safety and/or health of mining workers; (2) reveal potential barriers to EXO application in a mining environment and guide the implementation of EXOs while considering such barriers; and (3) establish the efficacy of EXO technology based on in-mine testing.
These goals will be accomplished through three research aims, using a mix of qualitative and quantitative methods, as follows.
Identify opportunities in surface stone mining for the application and assessment of EXOs by engaging industry stakeholders. With the support of industry partners, semi-structured interviews and questionnaires will be completed with industry stakeholders, including miners, supervisors, safety managers, and industry leaders. This will provide a clear understanding of expectations, concerns, and opportunities of EXO use specifically in surface stone mining.
Quantify the benefits and risks of EXO use for select manual tasks in surface stone mining. Since exoskeleton benefits and limitations are specific to EXO designs and are task-specific, laboratory-based studies will be completed to quantify the benefits and limitations or risks of EXOs for targeted manual mining tasks in various task conditions. The impacts of using different EXO designs will be determined using a broad set of objective and subjective measures that capture work performance, physical demands, usability and preference, and safety.
Refine initial guidelines for EXO use through the assessment of the perceived safety, effectiveness, and acceptability of EXO use by surface stone mining workers in a realistic context. Guidelines for EXO use in surface stone mining that will be evaluated and refined through field testing will be developed. The initial guidelines will be used in practice to inform workers/supervisors in selecting and using EXOs effectively during their manual tasks. Outcomes will capture the effects of using an EXO during diverse manual surface rock mining tasks, help to refine the initial EXO guidelines, and help in the future to assist those in the mining sector regarding best practices for the safe, beneficial use of EXOs.
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