Washington, DC – Investing in technology to reduce workplace musculoskeletal disorders, or MSDs, is demonstrated to improve both worker wellbeing and an organization’s bottom line, but initial research findings from the National Safety Council suggest employers may not have the access and knowledge they need to effectively assess and implement these risk-reducing technologies. Recognizing this challenge and the importance of broader adoption of proven safety solutions, the Council released a white paper, Emerging Technologies for the Prevention of Musculoskeletal Disorders, to help employers navigate the evolving technology marketplace.
“Advancements in technology and automation have decreased workplace hazards to an extent undreamt of only a few years ago, but these rapid changes and a lack of clear standards for MSD-focused innovations 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 their size or industry, can understand technology solutions available to minimize MSD risks and create safer outcomes for their workers.”
Published through its MSD Solutions Lab, a groundbreaking initiative established in 2021 with funding from Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN), the report was developed in partnership with Safetytech Accelerator and builds on the Council’s commitment to reducing MSDs worldwide through innovation and pioneering research. Specifically, 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 materials handling equipment, digital twins and extended 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 technology.
Notable findings from the report include:
- Computer vision may be a helpful tool for large organizations, so they can more effectively aggregate and analyze ergonomic risks across an enterprise.
- In instances where implementing engineering controls is not financially feasible, workers may benefit from the use of wearable sensors, which can provide real-time haptic feedback to reduce back injuries caused by poor posture, over-reaching and improper lifting.
- To reduce MSD risk caused by manual materials handling, organizations may consider adopting passive exoskeletons, which have shown to reduce muscle activity by up to 40% and, in one case study, decreased worker fatigue by 45% and boosted organization output 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 advancement – Industry 5.0 – has already begun, prompting employers to dedicate a greater emphasis on harmonizing human ingenuity and automation in the workplace.
“The marketplace for MSD risk management is enormous, and it’s increasingly 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 help advance this cause through our ongoing work with the MSD Solutions Lab,” said Dr. Maurizio Pilu, managing director of Safetytech Accelerator.
MSDs – such as tendinitis, back strains and sprains, and carpal tunnel syndrome – are the leading cause of worker disability, involuntary retirement and limitations to gainful employment. This white paper is one of several initiatives underway by the MSD Solutions Lab to solve this pervasive safety issue, including an advisory council, additional pioneering research, innovation challenges and grant program.
“Every workplace is unique, but today’s employers can agree ongoing strides in technology are redefining and improving the ways in which 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, this emerging safety technology research is an invaluable resource for any employer looking to advance healthier, safer workplaces.”
Get the free paper: NSC: Emerging Technologies for the Prevention of Musculoskeletal Disorders