Researching Our Way to a Safer Ohio

Call for research grant proposals due Nov. 23
by Bernard J. Silkowski, BWC Director of Technical Services & Support

Most of us pass by hundreds of road signs every day, rarely giving them a second thought. And if we do, I’ll wager it’s not about the thought that went into designing them.

Isign began thinking about this as a teen, after I was hired to paint a sign for my church.  How big should the lettering be?  How wide and long should I make the shaft of the directional arrow?  What’s the best size and shape for the arrowhead so it could be easily discerned by a passing motorist?  While making “parking in the rear” too small was unlikely to have dire consequences, the process made me wonder why highway signs are the way they are.

Now I know that human factors research has answered these types of questions, and, that the findings of that research have been incorporated into standards for highway signage.  These standards are effective because they allow passing motorists to quickly and clearly recognize the guidance the signs are conveying.  This improves highway safety and is a good example of turning research into practice.

This is what we hope to achieve with the BWC research grant program. We believe through research, experts can learn things that can be used to make Ohio’s workplaces safer. At this very minute, nine safety research studies funded by $2 million in grants from the BWC are underway at six Ohio universities.  These projects, due for completion in 2017, were chosen for their potential to positively affect the overall safety, health, productivity, and competitiveness of Ohio’s workforce.

cover smallOur current research grant projects
Three of these projects are targeting the health care industry, which had the third highest rate of injury in the state in 2014.  Another is studying how pushing and pulling activities cause low back and shoulder injuries, and another, the dynamic assessment of torque tools, both areas for which there has been surprisingly little research.  Other researchers are looking at certain aspects of the safety and health risks of stored grain facilities, preventing injuries using wearable computer technology, Total Worker Health, and integrating safety and ergonomics with lean and six sigma processes in manufacturing.

Call for research proposals
The second round of grants, which will total $1 million, is open to any college, university, or not-for-profit research institution located within Ohio.  Research proposals are welcome until 5:00 p.m. on Nov. 23 for any occupational safety and health (OS&H) topical area.  We are, however, particularly interested in the following areas:

  • Assessing the occupational exposure of firefighters to agents that lead to the development of occupational disease
  • Prevention of injuries
    • In the wholesale and retail sector
    • Among firefighters working for small firefighting divisions
    • Among construction workers (especially injuries caused by falls)
  • Prevention of musculoskeletal disorders
    • In the automotive service sector
    • Especially those disorders associated with back, shoulder, and knee
  • Studying treatment outcomes for back, knee, and shoulder injuries
  • Development of innovative solutions/methods/tools
    • To quantify the effectiveness and return on investment (ROI) for implementing OS&H or ergonomics interventions in the workplace
    • To improve OS&H management
    • To improve employees’ perceptions, participation, and commitment to safety in the workplace.

Other benefitsOhio Occupational Safety and Health Research Program cover-page-001
Putting the safety aspect aside for a moment, there are other benefits to this grant program.  It keeps employer premium dollars in the Buckeye State by investing them at our educational institutions and providing educational and employment opportunities for students and researchers.  Our industries become more competitive because improvements in safety, quality, and productivity go hand-in-hand.  The program fosters collaboration between academia and industry and helps make Ohio a center of safety proactivity, improvement and innovation—a name for which Ohio is becoming known nationally.

Can research be exciting? It certainly can when it leads to safer and more healthful workplaces.  That’s why we created the research program in the first place and always welcome ideas for future research projects.

For details about the Ohio Occupational Safety and Health Research Program and this year’s call for proposals, click here.

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