How computer simulations are preventing workplace injuries
Waterloo researchers interpret shoulder injury risk for a whole population of workers — from automotive to utility and telecommunications workers
Waterloo researchers interpret shoulder injury risk for a whole population of workers — from automotive to utility and telecommunications workersBy Rose Simone University Communications
Workplace injuries are a major cause of pain, stress, and expense for individuals, companies and healthcare systems.
But newly developed algorithms can help prevent those injuries, even before the job exists.
In the lab of Clark Dickerson, a kinesiology professor and an NSERC Canada Research Chair in Shoulder Mechanics in the Faculty of Applied Health Sciences, mathematical models are created to help simulate how different activities and tasks can injure the muscles, joints and tendons connected to the shoulder.
The research team uses that information to redesign the task and help avoid injuries.
Some of the research involves having people wear sensors that will generate computer visualizations of what is happening to the body as a person performs a task in a workplace. But Dickerson’s team is also involved in designing the job before it exists in a virtual environment, in order to reduce the possibility of injury.
The data and the models they create can then be used by practitioners responsible for designing work tasks to promote ergonomic health and safety.
“On the occupational industrial side we have a wide range of end users, from automotive to telecommunications and electrical utilities,” says Dickerson, the Canada Research Chair of Shoulder Mechanics.
His team has also used this technology to model arm movement impairments that breast cancer survivors might experience because of nerve damage that happens when muscle tissue and lymph nodes are removed. “In that work, our goal is to understand the loss of function and how to maximize the function that remains, in order to enable a better quality of life.”
According to the largest workers’ compensation insurance provider in the United States, overexertion injuries–from lifting, pushing, pulling, holding, carrying or throwing objects – cost U.S. employers $13.4 billion every year.
In Canada, it is estimated that occupational shoulder injuries affect nearly 10,000 workers and account for more than $450 million in disability benefit and compensation payments.
Dickerson’s lab is one of the few in the world that goes well beyond just modelling the exposure to injury risk for a specific person. “We do that, but we are also able to interpret the overexposure risk at the population level, not just the individual level. Ours is a leading group in the world doing that.”
“The goal is to move the consideration of the person in the job design evaluation to as early a point in the process as possible, before it becomes a problem,” Dickerson says, emphasizing that this approach saves money and reduces injury risk in powerful ways.