When workers are out due to back injuries, productivity suffers, so finding ways to prevent these types of injuries should be top of mind among construction firms.
“Despite best efforts by health and safety professionals, workplace injury rates have remained relatively unchanged over the last five years, at huge cost to organizations and the US economy,” said Mark Heaysman, DorsaVi, a manufacturer of wearable sensors which are utilized to study ergonomics, the scientific approach to finding the best way to fit the work to the worker.
The best time to study/evaluate/learn ergonomics and reduce risk of injury is during the pre-task planning phase. During this phase, one may find answers to questions like these:
Maybe there are different ways to carry equipment on people’s backs to reduce strains? Maybe implementing pre-fabrication processes (building small units prior to assembling larger machines) can save time, money and decrease repetitive motions?
Ergonomic analysis coupled with technology tools have been proven to prevent musculoskeletal disorders and injuries that affect the human body's movement or musculoskeletal system (i.e. muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves, discs, blood vessels, etc.). Common MSDs include carpal tunnel syndrome and tendonitis.
A British construction firm identified low back injuries as their most frequent and costly injury to bricklayers. They wanted to identify what they could do to try and minimize the impact of low back injuries on their business. They consulted with DorsaVi to analyze, identify problems, implement solutions and re-evaluate results.
Two bricklayers were evaluated throughout their workday and hooked up movement and muscle sensors throughout the back and shoulders. The data identified challenges with low back posture and muscle activity — most significant when they were grabbing their mud to put between the bricks. While traditional ergonomic analysis applies static measures to dynamic tasks, using the sensors allows managers to look at every aspect of the job and determine a complete picture of the risk and zero in on potential areas for solution.
After analyzing the data, it was recommended to integrate an elevated work station that attaches to a scaffold.
Using the elevated work station helped reduce the frequency of low back flexion by greater than 85%. Also, lumbar muscle activation was reduced by 84%. Shoulder elevation was reduced by more than 70%.
As a result of creating a more ideal ergonomic work environment, the risk for injury was significantly reduced, and the overall efficiency (when measured by bricks per minute) were increased by 17%.
This technology can be utilized when an organization recognizes that sprain/strain type injuries are a problem point and traditional methods for managing these challenges are not solving the problem.
“Wearable technology allows ergonomic programs to become more specific and data centered to drive the best possible solution,” said Nic Patee, President of Work Right NW. Patee has spoken at conferences across the country about wearables in the workplace.
“New technology is developing daily,” said Patee. “There are now risk algorithms that can quantify potential risk in the low back. There are biometrics that are being integrated (i.e. hydration levels, metabolic levels, etc) and beyond. The future is exciting when the focus is on injury prevention rather than injury treatment.”
While there are some upfront costs to engaging an ergonomics consultant, the payback delivers reduced injuries, fewer sick days/days away from work, and improved efficiency.