Amey is trialling an innovative robotic exosuit with operatives working on the Forth Bridges in Scotland, the EksoVest aims to reduce the risks posed by manual handling tasks
In partnership with Amey, Transport Scotland has purchased the exosuit to be trialled in its Forth Bridges Unit. The first of its kind in Scotland, the EksoVest is a new piece of safety work wear that aims to reduce the likelihood of on-the-job injuries.
The EksoVest is an external metal frame that mirrors elements of the human skeletal structure. It is powered by a series of springs and supports workers’ arms to assist them with tasks ranging from chest height to overhead, providing between 2.2kg to 6.8kg of lift assistance per arm, making lifting objects easier.
The tasks that the operatives undertake on the Forth Bridges predominately require the use of the upper body. The EksoVest is lightweight and has been designed to alleviate strain on operatives’ arms who are working on tasks above chest height.
Mark Arndt, operating company representative for the Forth Bridges Unit, said: “Integrating technology into everyday tasks to reduce the risk of on-the-job injuries to my operatives, is the driving force behind trialling the EksoVest. The motorised skeletal vest not only has the capability to physically enhance the safety of our people, but it aims to lessen fatigue which will lead to an increase in productivity and a reduction in sickness absence.
“Our operatives have been wearing the vest to carry out a range of tasks including overhead grinding and welding to repair joints in the Forth Road Bridge, installing underdeck access, installing streetlighting and laying out and removing traffic management. These tasks require our operatives to manually handle weighted objects, so by providing them with a robotic vest that supports their skeletal structure and arms, I’m hoping that we can reduce the weight that they are managing and therefore the potential for injuries.
“We are still at the early stages of this exciting trial which began at the start of April 2019 but we’re hopeful that this wearable technology will enhance the wellbeing of our staff by making their jobs easier. This complements the range of other technological improvements being rolled out at the Forth Road Bridge as part of Transport Scotland’s drive for new innovations, including high definition VR models, wearable inspection tech, real-time big data harvesting and machine learning.”
One of the employees who has trialled the EksoVest is Blair Masterton, a rigger at the Forth Road Bridge. He said: “This is definitely a good piece of kit in the right work situation. It’s easy to put on and there is a slight assist when lifting staging boards and other heavy items. It feels a bit tight and can get in the way when wearing a harness, but this trial should hopefully help to identify areas where improvements can be made.”
The feedback gained from this trial will help to refine new technologies in a way that allows Amey’s front line operational staff to aid the development process.