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Meat processing sector trials ‘wearable’ technology

New wearable technology designed to reduce the risk of injury is being trialled by New Zealand’s meat processing sector.

The Suit-X Exoskeleton is a spring-loaded, non-mechanical device worn by workers to provide strength and support for mechanical and repetitive tasks. The suits reduce forces, cutting the risk of injury and increasing productivity, especially during periods of sustained bending and overhead reaching.

The back and shoulder suits, which can be worn on their own or together, do not impede everyday tasks such as walking, driving or climbing a ladder. They do not require the use of computers or batteries.

A study using surface sensors on the muscles during scaffold building demonstrated a 45 per cent reduction in muscle activity required for the task.

Developed in the United States by Suit-X, the Exoskeleton technology was recently demonstrated at a series of workshops across the country by the Australian-based company Biosymm, supported by the Meat Industry Association (MIA) and WorkSafe New Zealand.

Tim Ritchie, chief executive of the Meat Industry Association, says investing in technology is playing a pivotal role in the sector’s efforts to improve its health and safety performance.

“We have significantly reduced the injury rates over time, with the number of ACC injury claims more than halving since 2004. However, we are committed to lifting our performance further by exploring new technologies to remove or reduce risk.

“We believe good health and safety is more than compliance. We have a responsibility to look after our people to ensure they go home safe and well.”

The MIA and WorkSafe New Zealand signed a Partnership Agreement in April 2018, says Mr Ritchie.

“We are committed to sharing intelligence on critical harm and injury trends and issues, facilitating industry-good research to reduce injuries and illness, assisting in worker involvement, and supporting health and safety training.”

WorkSafe New Zealand Engagement Lead Julie-Ann Mail says 487 workers in the meat processing industry had more than a week away from work due to body stressing injuries in 2018.

“The Exoskeleton roadshow demonstrates the leadership of the Meat Industry Association, which is looking to address manual handling injuries in the industry with state of the art technology.”

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