In partnership with Amey, Transport Scotland has purchased the EksoVest for testing. 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.
Amey said that 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 deigned to alleviate strain on operatives’ arms when are working on tasks above chest height. It said that the 4.3kg EksoVest is comfortable for operatives to wear in all conditions whilst still enabling them the freedom to move.
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 EskoVest. 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.
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.”
Kenny Horn, a welder/fabricator at the Forth Road Bridge, added: “I found the EksoVest to be helpful when grinding above head height, although I eventually did get pins and needles in my arms after using it for a prolonged period!”