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How exoskeletons will change the work of waste collection workers

Partitalia, an Italian company that aims to transform waste collection through cutting-edge IoT and RFID technologies, is collaborating with the Technology and Design for Healthcare (TeDH) lab at Politecnico di Milano to study the opportunities arising from these emerging research areas. The results of the study will be presented by the ICT company in Lainate at the ISWA World Congress 2023. The event is an important platform for experts and scientists from around the world in the field of waste management. The dangers associated with the collection profession will also be addressed. The congress is scheduled to take place from October 30 to November 1 in Muscat, Oman. Considering that waste collection is a physically demanding job that leads to the most common musculoskeletal disorders, as mentioned in the report "Supporting HSE improvement", we have analyzed the risks for waste collectors.

Several factors and work circumstances affect the health and safety of workers in this industry. These include heavy lifting, repetitive activities and tasks over a long period of time, limited recovery and rest periods. Ignoring these risks leads to chronic physical injuries and illnesses. Wearable technologies exist to monitor the health of workers. These consist of a range of devices designed to be placed in contact with the body or worn on the body. These include exoskeletons that make certain human functions easier and more efficient.

Wearable systems improve the regular performance of necessary tasks. Functional assessments, monitoring of basic and complex activities, and "motion capture" technologies to record person and object movements are used to assess work-related musculoskeletal disorders (). One example is wearable actigraphy, which is an important diagnostic test for sleep studies.
As part of the study conducted with the Politecnico di Milano, we performed medical examinations on garbage collection workers. These examinations included diagnostic tests such as ECG (electrocardiogram) and EMG (electromyography). By using diagnostic tests along with medical examinations, we were able to gain a complete understanding of the overall health of the waste collectors. We propose the use of exoskeletons as wearable supports for these workers.

Exoskeletons can provide support or rehabilitate impaired physical functions. They greatly help ecological workers. Giuseppe Andreoni, full professor and coordinator of the TeDH laboratory at Politecnico di Milano, which is currently developing exoskeleton technology, explains that they have analyzed and researched various solutions to support work activities with different intensities. These solutions are complex and include various aspects such as design, mechatronics, materials, sensors and software. The challenge is to develop wearable devices that meet work and safety requirements, avoid interruptions to other system components, and support work activities. Wearable systems in ergonomics can identify and evaluate potential musculoskeletal disorders, renovate workstations, equipment, and tasks. This can prevent or mitigate various hazards, improving worker safety and health.

Tom Illauer

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