Reducing Ergonomic Injury in Assembly Industries is Goal of Research Fellowship Awarded to UB Engineer

Research will help industry safety and ergonomics professionals prevent workplace injuries

Release Date: August 15, 2003 This content is archived.


BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Victor Paquet watches workers work -- over and over again.

An expert on ergonomic job analysis and workplace injury prevention, the University at Buffalo assistant professor of industrial engineering is looking for patterns of repetitive movement that may cause injury to workers on the job.

From his observations and analysis, Paquet is developing guidelines and strategies for a safer workplace -- especially within the auto industry and other self-paced assembly industries, where repetitive movements are the cause of thousands of injuries every year.

"No one can watch every worker all the time," Paquet says. "My goal is to help safety and ergonomics professionals identify problems in the workplace as quickly and efficiently as possible.

"In the longer term, I am keenly interested in designing workplaces that will reduce the likelihood of injury and accommodate those who have been temporarily or permanently injured," he adds.

In support of Paquet's goals, the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) this summer awarded him a research fellowship at the Liberty Mutual Research Institute for Safety in Hopkinton, Mass. Paquet spent six weeks there analyzing data he obtained from observing autoworkers at the American Axel forge facility in Tonawanda, N.Y. -- research supported by a grant from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

Using this data, Paquet is developing statistical guidelines that essentially tell safety officers how many workers they need to watch -- and for how long -- in order to predict the likelihood of injury resulting from workers' repetitive movements. Typically, ergonomic injuries -- usually to the shoulders, knees and back -- result from frequent heavy lifting, frequent moderate lifting and awkward positions over extended periods, Paquet notes.

"The physical demands of work vary across time and across workers," Paquet says. "Given this variability, safety and ergonomic professionals need to know how long to watch work and how many

workers to see in order to know if there are problems -- both long term and in the course of the day -- that could result in worker injury."

Complete results of Paquet's research at the Liberty Mutual Institute for Safety will be published in the ASSE journal Professional Safety. According to Paquet, preliminary results appear to refute conventional wisdom about ergonomic-injury prediction.

"The assumption has been that because assembly work is a repetitive task we need only watch workers for a short time to assess the chance of ergonomic injury," Paquet says. "My findings show this to be a poor assumption. Self-paced assembly work actually varies quite a bit over time because different workers do different things to reduce fatigue and monotony.

"To truly know what problems exist, a safety manager would have to spend a lot of time and effort on observation," Paquet adds. "While this method may work, safety practitioners would be smart to employ an alternative approach to get the information they need."

Through his research at the Liberty Mutual Institute and UB, Paquet intends to give safety and ergonomics professionals guidelines and strategies they need to reduce injury.

He is one of several researchers studying ergonomics within the Department of Industrial Engineering in the UB School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, and is active in development of universal design initiatives through the Center for Inclusive Design and Environment Access in the UB School of Architecture and Planning. He hopes to nurture a long-term relationship between UB and Liberty Mutual for the study of ergonomic injury and for the universal design of work environments and products -- making them more usable, safer and appealing to people with a wide range of abilities.

Paquet and his colleagues in the UB Department of Industrial Engineering will host an international conference on ergonomics -- the Lucien Brouha Work Physiology Symposium -- in Buffalo Sept. 9-12. The impact of ergonomics legislation in the workplace and application of ergonomic principles across industries will be discussed.

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