This video gives a short overview of RMIT's research into reducing musculoskeletal injury in the construction industry.
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Construction workers are a high risk group for work-related musculoskeletal injury.
These injuries often involve extended periods of time off work and incur significant workers’ compensation costs.
Workers can suffer chronic pain and, in some cases, are unable to return to work.
These injuries are costly and damaging to employers, workers and their families.
Commonly affected body parts are the back, shoulder and wrist.
Understanding the risk factors for work-related musculoskeletal injury is important in order to be able to make improvements to the work environment and methods of work, including the equipment and tools used.
Lightweight, wearable sensors are now available, enabling trained technicians to reliably measure human movement to provide a more detailed understanding of the risk factors for musculoskeletal injury.
A team of researchers from RMIT used a whole body system of wearable sensors to capture information about risk factors inherent in five manual construction tasks.
Researchers visited rail construction sites within the Victorian Government’s Major Transport Infrastructure Program.
Construction workers participated in the study by wearing sensors while performing their everyday work tasks and providing feedback on work methods, tools and equipment.
Detailed measurements of workers’ movements were taken.
This allowed the research team to identify those task elements that contribute significantly to the risk of work-related musculoskeletal injury.
Analysis of the data allowed the research team, in consultation with workers and employers, to identify opportunities to reduce the risk of work-related musculoskeletal injury. These focused on making improvements to the work environment and methods of work, including the equipment and tools used.
Using the wearable sensors, the researchers were able to assess alternative work methods, equipment and tools to see whether these can eliminate or significantly reduce the range, frequency or duration of potentially harmful postures and movements.
Some of the alternative approaches used simple, low technology devices to improve worker postures and movements.
For some tasks a novel approach was used to understand how risk factors can change depending on the height at which work is carried out.
This provided a detailed understanding of the physical characteristics of the tasks, as well as specific information about the best tool or work method to use when performing work at different heights.
Measuring human movement to understand risk factors for musculoskeletal injury provides important information that can be used to decide the best ways to control the risk of work-related musculoskeletal injury in the construction industry.
Wearable sensor technology can be used to measure and document improvements that can be made by making changes to the work environment and methods of work, including the equipment and tools to be used.
The challenge for the construction industry is to consult with workers to identify opportunities to reduce the risks of work-related musculoskeletal injury:
when designing and planning the work environment, layout and flow.
when designing methods of work, including the equipment and tools to be used, and
when selecting and purchasing tools and equipment that will be used to perform a work task.