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Making manufacturing safer: A role for wearable robotics?

Manufacturing may be Minnesota's largest private-sector industry, but it's not the safest one.

To be sure, it's an industry with a lot of positive momentum, with innovations in 3-D printing, robotics and other tech-driven areas. But manufacturing also tops the list of industries in the number of reports of work injuries, as we discussed in our April 8 post.

In this post, we will take note of a recent technological development that may actually make the workplace safer for manufacturing workers: wearable robotics.

Different types of risks

There are of course many different types of manufacturing jobs, requiring varying levels of skill and involving varying levels of risk. A skilled machine operator in a facility making customized products does not face the same challenges as someone on an automotive or food-production assembly line.

But all manufacturing jobs are potentially dangerous. Earlier this year, for example, federal regulators fined Minnesota's Schwan Food Co. more than $172,000 for safety violations at one of its plants.

The fines against Schwann's came after injuries to three workers in three separate accidents at a frozen pizza plant. One worker lost a hand to amputation. Another worker lost a finger and a third suffered burns, lacerations and a fracture of one of her hands.

Robotics to the rescue?

The problem in the Schwan's case was lack of protective guards on equipment. The company was fined because it failed to provide those guards on the equipment employees had to work on.

But what if in addition to proper safeguards on the equipment you use, you also had high-tech gloves to enhance the strength and endurance of your hands?

Such capacities are increasingly becoming possible. General Motors and a Swedish company are collaborating on a special type of glove called the RoboGlove that is designed to enable humans to grip objects tighter and with more endurance.

This glove is not a movie prop. It uses battery-powered activity to augment the actions of the human hand - and offer enhanced protection against all sorts of injuries, including those caused by repetitive strain.

The term for this type of thing is "wearable robotics." Proponents of the technology believe it has the potential to prevent injuries in numerous ways, such as by enabling humans to avoid back injuries linked to heavy lifting.

Fair compensation for work injuries

Fancy wearable robotics aren't about to replace traditional personal protective equipment (PPE) such as goggles and hard hats anytime soon. But it is exciting to know that these devices offer the potential to help humans avoid work injuries.

In the meantime, if you were hurt on the job, it's important that you get the workers' compensation benefits you may be eligible for. A knowledgeable attorney can guide you effectively in doing that.

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