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Singapore

SCDF emergency medical responders to trial suit that relieves lower back pain

SINGAPORE: Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) paramedics and emergency medical technicians who respond to 995 calls routinely perform physically demanding tasks. 

These include performing CPR, transferring casualties, as well as loading and unloading stretchers, which put a strain on their lower backs, eventually causing chronic backache, said an SCDF spokesperson on Friday (Oct 29).

To cut the risk of back injuries, SCDF is trialling exoskeleton suits that aim to reduce muscle strains and fatigue during operations.

The suit weighs less than 3kg and works by using the wearer's energy to help redistribute the load away from the lower back, said the Home Team Science and Technology Agency (HTX), which is involved in the trial.

There are chest pads that support the chest when leaning forward, adjustable features to fit the wearer better and "smart joints" that reduce strain on the lower back when turned on via a switch. 

An Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Crew member performing CPR on a dummy with the assistance of the soft exoskeleton suit. (Photo: Calvin Oh)

Disaster Assistance and Rescue Team (DART) specialists, who handle operations such as extricating casualties from collapsed structures or confined spaces, will also trial the suits. 

Such operations require them to perform tasks like holding onto hydraulic equipment for prolonged periods, which is also demanding and can lead to lower back injuries, SCDF said. 

Disaster Assistance And Rescue Team (DART) specialist Sergeant 3 Zulhelmi Sa’adon carrying a power saw with the assistance of the soft exoskeleton suit. (Photo: Calvin Oh)

The suit is typically used in industries like agriculture and manufacturing that require heavy lifting. 

SCDF said the trial will be conducted in day-to-day operations from January and will go on for a year. 

Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Crew members Sergeant 2 Yeo Benjamin and Siti Nabillah Salleh performing CPR on a dummy with the assistance of the soft exoskeleton suit. (Photo: Calvin Oh)

REDUCING MUSCLE STRAIN

According to HTX, the suit is effective for tasks that are repetitive in nature and endurance-based.

The agency had conducted a test from June to October this year to find out the efficacy of the suit in a controlled environment, said one of its scientists Ms Leong Hin Fong.

Findings of the test included reports of a "significant" increase in lower back support when performing tasks with the suit. DART specialists were also able to hold on to "very heavy" hydraulic equipment for 39 per cent longer, HTX said. The equipment typically weighs about 20kg. 

"The suit aims to reduce muscle strains during operations. In doing so, this reduces accumulated fatigue and repetitive stress on responders over a prolonged period of time," said Ms Leong. 

SCDF said it has been responding to an increasing number of emergency calls in an "increasingly complex operating terrain", adding that the COVID-19 pandemic has put "tremendous strain" on resources. 

"These factors have affected the physical safety and well-being of SCDF's frontline responders," said SCDF and HTX in a joint media release.

Paramedic Sergeant Benjamin Yeo, who was involved in the test, said that the suit relieved lower back strain while performing tasks.

Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Crew members Sergeant 2 Yeo Benjamin and Siti Nabillah Salleh loading a dummy into an ambulance with the assistance of the soft exoskeleton suit. (Photo: Calvin Oh)
A close up look at the soft exoskeleton suit. (Photo: Calvin Oh)

For instance, during resuscitation efforts, officers have to perform six cycles or 12 minutes of compressions.

"It might not sound like much but when we perform 12 minutes of CPR continuously, we will actually start to feel the strain on the lower back," he said. 

"This exoskeleton (suit) actually helps to support the lower back in our posture during the full 12 minutes of compressions." 

Source: CNA/ic(gs)

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