Exoskeletons and the Workplace

Today’s post comes from guest author Jon Rehm, from Rehm, Bennett & Moore.

Due to Japan’s rapidly aging demographics, they are using exoskeletons to make older workers more productive in heavy-labor jobs.

“’We expect that exoskeletons, or power-assist suits, will be widely used in people’s lives in 15 years,’ said Panasonic spokesperson Mio Yamanaka, who is based in Osaka, Japan, as quoted by Tech Review.”

“The suit, which weighs just over 13 pounds and attaches to the back, thighs, and feet, allows its wearer to carry an additional 33 pounds,” according to the Business Insider article. Industries that have tested the suit in Japan include warehouse handlers and forestry workers. Another suit in testing that’s larger “could help workers carry up to 220 pounds.”

I see some upsides and downsides to this trend:

Positives:

  1. This preserves manual-labor jobs. The human brain is still more sophisticated than a computer when it comes to having the skills to perform many tasks. Robotically enhanced humans might preserve human labor.
  2. It’s potentially easier to accommodate injured and disabled employees. There might be fewer workers’ compensation payments, but employers may find it harder to fire injured workers.  Not having an exoskeleton available for injured or disabled employees could be considered discrimination.
  3. Less discrimination against older workers would occur when physical limitations are decreased.

Negatives:

  1. Using an exoskeleton opens the potential of abuse by employers. The machines may push production workers to perform their duties even faster. Employees may still have injuries or maybe even develop new work-related injuries from using exoskeletons.
  2. Are exoskeletons really safe? Who is responsible if they cause injury?

In summary, if you or a loved one have questions about current workplace trends as they apply to injured workers, please contact an experienced workers’ compensation lawyer.