Prevent musculoskeletal disorders by using exoskeletons is no longer a dream for landscapers!

20 Jan 2020

And what if exoskeletons could help landscapers to grow old pain-free by preventing MSDs (musculoskeletal disorders)? Unep’s Innovation and Quality-Safety-Environment Commissions have carried out several tests in real-life situations since 2018. They reported their findings at a Paysalia 2019 conference. A vast subject which interests landscaping companies as well as students who awarded their special Paysalia Innovations Trophies prize to new landscaping equipment from Exhauss Exosquelettes!

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Edge trimming with an exoskeleton

Exoskeletons may seem like science fiction – but are in fact several decades old! 

Exoskeletons are mechanical structures which give the human body new possibilities. Often seen in works of science fiction, the idea has interested industrialists since the sixties! But, due to the lack of technologies sufficiently advanced to meet the many technical challenges involved, these early tests were forgotten – until recently.

Initially focused on medical and military tasks, exoskeletons have gradually extended to new branches of industry, with less ambitious – but quite as noble – objectives than when the concept originated. Now the idea is not to “add performances” to the human body, but to reduce work-related fatigue.

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An exoskeleton with the Exhauss Exosquelettes innovation which won the Special Students Prize at the Paysalia Innovations Trophies 2019
© Nicolas Rodet

Some exoskeletons can be mechanized (for physical assistance) or motorized (physical assistance robots).

A welcome help in the prevention of the curse of landscapers – MSDs 

Work-related pains are real problems for landscapers. Like all the other physical trades, the efforts involved in handling and maintenance tasks mean that they incur several risks including falls, cuts and especially musculoskeletal disorders, which can lead to permanent disability.

Read Pellenc's interview about landscaping equipment and employee wellbeing

Cutting hedges, laying flagstones on a terrace, carrying bags of compost and other loads as well as repetitive gestures and out-of-kilter postures puts damaging strains on the human body. Many landscape innovations have already tried to solve these problems. Exoskeletons provide assistance with effort but are not yet considered as personal protective equipment (PPE) or as “do the job in your place” equipment, but as machines that help with landscapers’ routine gestures

An innovation already tested with landscaping companies

Thanks to their role in preventing MSDs, exoskeletons are a promising solution already carefully studied by Unep. The QSE and Innovation Commissions have run two experiments on the tiresome job of hedge trimming, one with Exhauss Exosquelette, the other with Gobio.

Field tests began in 2018 with four French landscaping companies – Terideal, Id Verde, Gonthier Espaces Verts and Courserant Espaces Verts.

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A welcomed help for edge trimming, starring an Exhauss exoskeleton

Benefits were felt immediately…

Employees immediately felt the difference in improved working conditions. The physical side of hedge trimming was facilitated as the weight of the clippers is reduced when carried at arm's length. The hinged arm of the exoskeleton enables a wider swing when working, less effort on wide hedges and more regular, linear, trimming.

… and in the long term!

When landscapers used this equipment, both Unep Commissions reported longer endurance when trimming hedges and a gain in productivity. As the sector is having difficulty in recruiting, even if good ideas are surfacing, Unep believes that exoskeletons can also contribute to making landscaping trades more attractive as the pain factor tends to dissuade young people.

Some improvements are needed before massive deployment in the landscaping sector 

Of course, as for all innovations, there are still some loopholes to close in order to offer landscapers an equipment in line with their needs! 

Transport to sites is not easy as exoskeletons take up space in vehicles. It was also noted that some models are not compatible with electric hedge clippers powered by backpack batteries. And the hinged arms are of no help with ground-level work.

The price (approximately 5,000€ per exoskeleton) may also dissuade small companies from investing in this innovative landscaping equipment. However, Unep is working with equipment rental companies to eliminate this problem and ensure that exoskeletons can be used for specific interventions.

As exoskeletons are a promising innovation for landscapers, Unep will undertake more research. Now that this new equipment has been proven to reduce the MSDs from which landscapers suffer, we need to move on and anticipate any transfer of risk or the development of new pathologies related to their use!


© Photos credits: Exhauss Exosquelette 

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