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For older workers, wearables are where it’s at

When the ergonomics team at General Motors decided to field test wearables to augment their plant workers’ physical abilities, they partnered with body mechanics experts who collect data in a scientific way—and talked with users.

“One operator said, ‘I usually have to take a Motrin at lunch to make it through my shift, and today I didn’t have to’,” said GM’s Dan Flores. “It’s that kind of feedback we received during our initial pilot that gave us the encouragement to proceed.”

Like GM, other manufacturers are enhancing their employees’ abilities through wearable devices, some of which take the strain off their muscles, or monitor potentially harmful physical moves and alert the worker to stop—or track their location and environmental conditions in a sprawling job site.
All of these devices help increase worker safety and, in the case of exoskeletons or GM’s powered, grip-assist glove, are aiding in retaining older workers while employers figure out how to fill the vacancies once these more experienced employees retire.

“Industrial exoskeletons are really taking off,” said Dr. Tom Sugar, director of science and technology for the Wearable Robotics Association and professor of engineering at Arizona State University. “That’s a really big marketplace in terms of worker wellness.”

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