Events Industrial

Recognizing International World Day for Safety and Health

World Day for Safety and Health at Work

Did you know the United Nations annually celebrates World Day for Safety and Health at Work on April 28!? The theme for this year is ensuring safety and health at work in a changing climate. In 2003, the International Labor Organization began to observe World Day to highlight the prevention of accidents and diseases at work. The goal is to raise awareness of how to make work safe and healthy and the need to raise the political profile of occupational safety and health. This celebration differs greatly from Labor Day in Western countries or “Workers’ Day,” as it was known in the Soviet Bloc, which was a celebration of work and accomplishments without much thought into what governments and companies were doing to ensure workers’ safety.

Despite the proliferation of automation and digital technology, work accidents are not a thing of the past. Well, data from both the U.S. and Europe (see WearRA—Our Motivation) suggests that rates of musculoskeletal injuries for workers are not decreasing. As a society, we are responsible for reevaluating what we consider acceptable risk at a job and whether employees in physically demanding jobs deserve to retire with fewer injuries to their bodies so that they can better enjoy their golden years.

Occupational exoskeletons aim to reduce job site injury rates. In 2024, wearables will be used for repetitive tasks in manufacturing, logistics, farming, and more recently, in healthcare and construction (amongst many others). They come in various designs, broadly supporting the shoulders, lower back, and fingers (grasping) or providing support while holding static and awkward poses. However, this technology and the benefits it promises will not become widely available or perfected without investment and support.

Thousands of People Discovered Occupational Exoskeletons at ExoPark During A+A 2023
Thousands of People Discovered Occupational Exoskeletons at ExoPark During A+A 2023

If World Day for Safety and Health is meant to raise awareness for workers’ health, then this is exactly what occupational exoskeleton technology could use. It is not that occupational/industrial exoskeleton technology is spreading slowly, as much as it could be reaching workers who can benefit from it much faster. An awareness campaign, government subsidies, and investment could act as a catalyst that skyrockets this beneficial technology’s adoption rate. On World Day for Safety and Health, let us all consider raising awareness and engaging with governments, companies, and worker’s organizations to introduce exo-technology to their members and constituents.

Challenges and Considerations:

Humanity has recently gone through a digital revolution. How we communicate and talk has changed dramatically over the past few decades. However, we haven’t had a physical revolution in some time. It is culturally engrained that some physically demanding occupations, such as farming, manufacturing, logistics, and healthcare, to name but a few, would result in people getting hurt and injured. We ask firefighters to save us from a burning building or pull us out of a car wreck, but we don’t ask them how heavy their equipment is, what awkward positions they would have to assume, or how many of their colleagues have lost their careers due to injury. Exoskeleton technology needs investments to make the devices more comfortable, transparent, smaller, and useful. But, there also needs to be an increase in education and awareness. Awareness that just because we have done things a certain way for generations, it doesn’t mean we don’t have the technology to usher in a physical revolution, redefine what is acceptable risk at work, and provide employees and contractors with the necessary tools (be it exoskeletons or not, depending on the task) to do their job safer.

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