Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) are the most common workplace injury and represent the leading cause of worker disability, involuntary retirement and limitations to gainful employment. These injuries include tendinitis, back strains and sprains, as well as carpal tunnel syndrome, and are often caused by exposures to repetitive, forceful exertions like heavy lifting.
Advancing its mission to unite business leaders and safety innovators worldwide to prevent MSDs, the National Safety Council MSD Solutions Lab launched its first-ever Safety Innovation Challenge in San Diego during the recent NSC Safety Congress & Expo. Hosted in collaboration with Safetytech Accelerator, the challenge represents the latest initiative from the MSD Solutions Lab – a program established in 2021 with Amazon – and spotlighted six leading technology firms from around the globe as they presented new MSD solutions.
“Global collaboration and innovative thinking are the pillars on which the MSD Solutions Lab is built, and the inaugural Safety Innovation Challenge is an important step forward in our effort to eliminate these debilitating injuries,” said Paul Vincent, NSC executive vice president of workplace practice. “Ultimately, our goal is more than just pioneering research and amplifying next-generation safety solutions, it’s all about ensuring advancements in MSD prevention are rapidly scaled to benefit workers at all workplaces, so they can live their fullest lives on and off the clock.”
“Innovation is a key element of what we call the Amazon Safety flywheel, with technology being a cornerstone of our safety programs,” said Heather MacDougall, vice president of Worldwide Workplace Health and Safety at Amazon. “We are honored to support the Safety Innovation Challenge to drive meaningful MSD innovations, and we look forward to identifying and learning about new solutions to common safety issues facing employers across the industry.”
Recognizing the scope and complexity of this omnipresent safety issue, Safetytech Accelerator initially sourced over 100 technology companies with MSD solutions ranging from vision analytics, collaborative robots, wearables and exoskeletons, and selected six finalists with NSC for the Safety Innovation Challenge. Each finalist presented a unique approach to detecting, moving and transporting objects more safely in industrial workplaces. Following the challenge, several of these technology solutions will have the opportunity to be piloted by the nation’s leading employers.
“We have been truly impressed by the range and quality of solutions that entrepreneurs all around the world are developing to help prevent MSDs,” said Dr. Maurizio Pilu, managing director of Safetytech Accelerator. “The selection of the six candidates to participate in the challenge was not easy given the pool of great solutions we saw, but we believe that the companies selected represent some of the best examples of technology-enabled MSD prevention out there.”
This year’s Safety Innovation Challenge participants included the following safety-focused technology companies:
- Effidence: EffiBOT, the autonomous mobile robot pioneered by Effidence, is designed to improve logistics performance in factories and warehouses by serving as an automated handling assistant. In addition to helping workers lift heavy materials, the collaborative robot is equipped with a leading navigation system to transport items across various workstations.
Extend Robotics: The London-based company couples advanced robotics and virtual reality to provide organizations with a revolutionary approach to workplace automation: teleoperated commercial robots. In addition to removing employees from potentially hazardous situations, the intuitive, easy-to-operate technology enables employers to scale operations more efficiently.
- HeroWear: Created in 2018, HeroWear’s battery-free Apex Exosuit is uniquely designed to address the many limitations employers and workers report with traditional exoskeletons, which are an MSD solution for many employers.
- Mobile Industrial Robots (MiR): In addition to assuming heavy lifting duties to reduce the risk of injury to workers, the company’s robots are designed to make autonomous deliveries, enabling employees to focus on higher-value activities within the organization. Since launching in 2013, MiR products have been successfully used in manufacturing facilities, logistics centers and hospitals around the world.
- TuMeke Ergonomics: This company offers an omnichannel platform that leverages computer vision and artificial intelligence to evaluate workers’ posture and joint positions while tracking their ergonomic risk factors over time, providing employers with a more organized, comprehensive risk assessment.
- WearKinetic: WearKinetic is a wearable motion sensor designed to detect improper bending, overreaching and twisting. In addition to delivering haptic feedback to workers to prevent hazardous movements, the tool aggregates company-wide data to help employers make more informed safety decisions.
“MiR was delighted to participate in the Safety Innovation Challenge and present our automated mobile robot technology to highlight the impact of MSDs in the workplace,” said Bryan Kelly, sales director of MiR Robotics. “It is our hope to educate people on how to make the manufacturing and warehouse environment safer.”
The Safety Innovation Challenge is one of several initiatives launching this year by the MSD Solutions Lab to achieve its goal of preventing MSDs before they start.