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 Exo-Skeletons and The Shrinking of the Comp World!


Alright, dear readers, we made it.  Friday is finally here and your humble blogger brings you an interesting bit of development in the world of the working man (and woman).

Apparently our good friends at Lowes are testing out exoskeletons for their employees to help with lifting.  These suits are reportedly very comfortable and, as described by one user, “it feels like this heavy thing is much less heavy.”

The basic idea is that when the worker bends down, the exoskeleton contracts under the tension, and the force applied when he or she starts straightening up (with the heavy object in hand) makes lifting that much easier.

Presumably, if Lowes applies this to its various stores and warehouses, it might see a decrease in back strains.

Likewise, your humble blogger stumbled upon this YouTube video of Lockheed Martin’s employees using exoskeletons to “make 30-pound items weightless.”

The video is pretty cool and worth the two minutes to watch but if you’re too busy for that, the basic gist is that the suit makes standing and holding a 36-pound tool easy.  The employee using it described needing to take far fewer breaks and having the work itself considerably easier to do.

The basic idea is that if you one were to run the numbers on how much your average back sprain costs from the DWC-1 to the Order Approving Compromise and Release, at least some employers are finding the exoskeleton to be a worthwhile investment.

Furthermore, thinking outside of the workers’ comp box for a little while (I know it’s hard, dear readers, but try just this one time for your humble blogger’s sake) pre-injury, presumably, the employer likes the employee and would rather not lose him or her, right?  After all, if the employee isn’t worth the wages, why not fire and replace?

Well, perhaps safety tools like these are an affordable middle step between paying for workers’ comp injuries and automating the work-force with robots.

Alright, so back inside the workers’ comp box: what will be the impact of using such tools?  I imagine that a lot of the medical evaluators and PTPs are going to have to become acquainted with the effect of such tools such as patient lifts in hospitals and exoskeletons in the industrial sphere to be able to adequately comment on causation.

If your typical QME is used to saying that life in general is a cumulative trauma, so everyone has a CT, he or she will have to explain why there is a CT to the back when the exoskeleton does all the lifting.  Without an understanding of how the technology works, and how little strain there actually is on the person, will such reports be open to attacks of not constituting substantial evidence?

If you do have an employee claiming a CT despite using such assistive devices, shouldn’t the QME have to review a report from an ergonomics expert about how these machines work and how much weight is absorbed by the machine itself?

Call me Chicken Little all you like, dear readers (go ahead, your humble blogger has been called far worse!) but I certainly see our little swamp of Workers’ Compensation being drained a bit and our world shrinking, as technology allows employers to apply money previously earmarked for what some call the “blue collar lotto” to keep their employees healthy and productive.

Have a good weekend!

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