P2-ASTM International Exo Technology Center of Excellence Exoskeletons: Considerations when deciding to use them as Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

Summary: On Thursday, November 19th, ASTM International Exo Technology Center of Excellence hosted the Exoskeletons: Considerations when deciding to use them as PPE PanelDiscussion.
The Program agenda included a welcome and overview of the ET CoE by Bill Billotte (ET 
CoE Director), along with on overview of ASTM International by Pat Picariello (Director, Developmental Operations).

QUESTION 5 : What input do union's have regarding exoskeletons?
ANSWER: It is believed that unions are okay with exos as long as their objective is to improve safety and NOT to increase productivity (ie, a worker being required to produce more than they are currently due to wearing an exoskeleton). Productivity increases due to fatigue reduction or other benefits are acceptable.

QUESTION 6 : What happens to a user cognitively when symbiouses happens?
ANSWER: This is a challenging human factors question whenever people and automated systems share control of the environment. At this time exoskeletons do not share decision making tasks with the person, but that is likely to change with intelligent exos. As we know people are relatively poor at performing a task with high vigilance or where a large number of sequential steps are required. In those situations, like driving on an uncrowded straight highway or a launch sequence the automated system can perform more reliably, but when a quick decision is needed the person needs to make the decision or at least review the course of action. The quick transfer of control from automation to a person is very difficult as we have seen with auto pilot systems. Another challenge with a shared environment is humanizing the automation (anthropomorphism). People attribute human characteristics and personality (good or bad) to the automation, then people react to the automation as they would a person with those characteristics. These are areas that have been studied but continue to evolve as the function allocation tends to assign more tasks to automation.
Another consideration with symbiosis is that if the system is accepted as an extension of the person, then it is deemed as a natural part of the work. This is similar to use of types of PPE or tools such as surgeon’s scalpels or artist’s paintbrush. Machine or automation trust is a major research focus in human factors.

QUESTION 7 : PPE is not fool-proof protection. Eye injuries can still happen with goggles. Head injuries can still happen with helmets. Hand injuries can still happen with gloves. PPE protects from things outside the body. It reduces risk, but it doesn't eliminate it. Why do companies think PPE eliminates risk? Do PPE companies promise total protection?
ANSWER: Companies do not think that PPE eliminates risk. PPE is considered the last means of protection in the hierarchy of hazard controls. The weakness of PPE, like administrative and work practice controls, is the hazard is not eliminated. PPE must maintain a barrier between the hazard and person. For exoskeletons this means a barrier between the person and forceful exertions, repetitions, awkward posture, contact stress or vibration (and combinations of the risk factors).
Injuries can still happen if workers don’t use their PPE or use them incorrectly. There needs to be a system for deploying PPE that incorporates proper training on PPE use including donning & doffing, inspection and replacement of damaged PPE, sanitizing or sterilizing re-usable PPE, safe disposal of contaminated PPE, etc. PPE manufacturers do not promise total protection.

To be continued...

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