A new study from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis could eventually help workers injured in workplace accidents in Miami and other cities. Dr. Ann Marie Dale and her team of researchers are looking at ways to reduce the instances of back, knee, neck, and hand injuries sustained at work sites. According to Dr. Dale, participatory ergonomics may be one way to reduce instances of construction site injuries, specially injuries affecting the nerves, muscles, and tendons.
Participatory ergonomics allows employees to select the work practices and tools they prefer when doing their job. According to Dr. Dale, allowing workers to have more say in work practices and tools and getting safety representatives as well as construction contractors involved in the decision making process can help create and improve safety as well as safety training.
As part of the study, researchers worked with construction site workers who were lifting pieces of sheet metal duct, cutting the metal, and inserting screws into the ducts using screw guns. The work was repetitive and involved heavy lifting as well as standing for some periods of time. With Dale’s encouragement, the workers took part in six weekly “tool box talks” meetings where posture and ergonomics tips were shared, as was information about choosing tools and pre-planning tasks. According to the researchers, the workers participated in the talks and responded well. In some cases, they changed the way they completed their job tasks and in most cases became more aware of injury risks.
Dale and her team hope to take the research and participatory ergonomics tools to other job sites. One challenge may be that construction sites in Miami and other cities are often fast-paced environments, so taking time out to discuss a different way of completing work tasks may not always be welcome. The researchers acknowledged that it was a challenge to find one construction site open to the participatory ergonomics idea, so making changes might involve some obstacles.
The research is intriguing, though. Could participatory ergonomics help prevent injuries and workers compensation claims in Miami and other cities? If workers were able to prevent even some amputations, crushing injuries, and other serious injuries as well as fatalities the effort might well be worth it. Surely, weekly meetings are well worth the reduced risk of injury and death. It does seem as though the first step is a change in the way that workers and their employers see worker participation.