Forth Bridges ‘robovest’ trial is a Scottish first

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Forth Bridges workers are this month trialling a “robotic exosuit” which could all but eliminate the risks posed by manual handling tasks.

The EksoVest is an external metal frame that mirrors elements of the human skeletal structure, and is powered by a series of springs which provide from 2.2kg to 6.8kh “lift assistance” to workers’ arms.

Tasks carried out by Bridges workers mainly involve use of the upper body, and the lightweight vest is reckonedto be comfortable and practical in all conditions.

In partnership with Amey, Transport Scotland has purchased the suit to be trialled in its Forth Bridges Unit - said to be the first of its kind in Scotland.

Mark Arndt, Operating Company Representative for the Forth Bridges Unit, said: “Our operatives have been wearing the vest to carry out a range of tasks including overhead grinding and welding to repair joints in the Forth Road Bridge.

“These require our operatives to manually handle weighted objects, so by providing them with a robotic vest that supports their skeletal structure and arms,

“I’m hoping we can reduce the weight that they are managing and therefore the potential for injuries.

Blair Masterton, a rigger at the Forth Road Bridge, said: “This is definitely a good piece of kit in the right work situation.

“It’s easy to put on and there is a slight assist when lifting staging boards and other heavy items.

“It feels a bit tight and can get in the way when wearing a harness, but this trial should hopefully help to identify areas where improvements can be made.”

Kenny Horn, a welder/fabricator at the Forth Road Bridge, also commented: “I found the EksoVest to be helpful when grinding above head height, although I eventually did get pins and needles in my arms after using it for a prolonged period.”

Meanwhile the trial is being watched with interest by other Amey businesses, to see whether it could be used for jobs including waste collection and assembling scaffolding.