Investments in technologies to reduce musculoskeletal disorders in the workplace, or MSDs, are shown to improve both employee well-being and an organization's bottom line, but initial research from the National Safety Council suggests that employers may not have the access and knowledge they need to effectively evaluate and implement these risk-reducing technologies. Recognizing this challenge and the importance of broader adoption of proven safety solutions, the Council published a white paper, Emerging Technologies for the Prevention of Musculoskeletal Disordersto help employers navigate the evolving technology market.
"Advances in technology and automation have reduced workplace hazards to an extent only a few years ago, but these rapid changes and a lack of clear standards for MSD-focused innovation can create uncertainty among organizations looking to adopt these tools," said Sarah Ischer, MSD Solutions Lab Program, Lead at NSC. "This white paper aims to bridge the gap between solution providers and adopters so that all organizations, regardless of size or industry, can understand technology solutions available to mitigate MSD risks and create safer outcomes for their employees."
The report was published in partnership with Safetytech Accelerator and builds on the Council's commitment to reduce the impact of innovation and groundbreaking research worldwide. In particular, the paper references nearly two dozen academic publications to assess the benefits of the most common emerging safety technologies: computer vision, wearable sensors, exoskeletons, autonomous and semi-autonomous material handling devices, digital twins and augmented reality. The MSD Solutions Lab also interviewed executives from a range of sectors, including agriculture, logistics and manufacturing, to better understand industry-specific MSD concerns and highlight successful applications of emerging technologies.
Noteworthy from the report are:
Computer vision can be a helpful tool for large companies, allowing them to more effectively aggregate and analyze ergonomic risks across the enterprise.
In cases where the implementation of engineering controls is not financially feasible, workers can benefit from the use of wearable sensors that can provide real-time haptic feedback to reduce back injuries caused by poor posture, overreaching and improper lifting.
To reduce MSD risk from manual material handling, companies can consider adopting passive exoskeletons, which have shown to reduce muscle activity by up to 40% and, in one case study, increase worker fatigue by 45% and company performance by nearly 10%.
While Industry 4.0, characterized by the widespread use of computerization, Big Data and AI in the workplace, is still ongoing, the next phase of progress - Industry 5.0 - has already begun, prompting employers to place a greater emphasis on harmonizing human ingenuity and automation in the workplace.
"The market for MSD risk management is enormous and becoming more accessible as innovators continue to push the boundaries of safety technology. Building awareness of these resources is a critical next step in the effort to solve the biggest workplace safety challenges, and we are proud to advance this cause through our ongoing work with the MSD Solutions Lab," said Dr. Dr. Maurizio Pilu, Managing Director, Safetytech Accelerator.
MSDs - such as tendonitis, back strains and sprains and carpal tunnel syndrome - are the leading cause of disability, involuntary retirement and limitations on gainful employment. This white paper is one of several initiatives underway by the MSD Solutions Lab to address this widespread safety problem, including an advisory council, additional groundbreaking research, innovation challenges and grant program.
"Every workplace is unique, but today's employers can agree that ongoing advances in technology are redefining and improving the way organizations are able to respond to complex issues facing their business," said Carla Gunnin, director of global governance and external affairs for workplace health and safety at Amazon. "We are proud to support the Council's work in this area and know regardless of what industry or sector an organization belongs to. This new safety technology research is an invaluable resource for any employer looking to promote healthier and safer workplaces."
To learn more about the MSD Solutions Lab and the risks associated with MSDs, visit nsc.org/msd or register to attend the world's largest annual gathering of safety professionals, the NSC Safety Congress & Expo 2023 2023, Oct. 20-26 in New Orleans. To register, visit congress.nsc.org.
About the National Security Council
The National Safety Council is America's leading nonprofit safety advocate - and has been for more than 110 years. As a mission-based organization, we work to eliminate the leading causes of preventable death and injury and focus our efforts on the workplace, the roadway and impairment. We are creating a culture of safety to keep people safer not only at work, but beyond the workplace so they can live their fullest lives.
About Safetytech accelerators
Safetytech Accelerator is a non-profit organization founded by Lloyds Register. It is the first fully dedicated technology accelerator focused on safety and risk in industry sectors, with a mission to make the world safer and more sustainable through wider adoption of technology.