Why research?

AbeAltarawnehBy Abe Al-Tarawneh, Superintendent, BWC Division of Safety & Hygiene

I can’t think of a better time than now to work on research for advancing occupational safety and health. Then I realize I thought this last year, the year before and every year before. Why? Because our knowledge in this area is accumulating at an accelerated rate allowing us to learn more, get better at what we do and then explore more.

Thanks to advances in technology and computing, we can learn things about the human mind and body that 20 years ago we couldn’t imagine we would ever learn. These advances have allowed us to translate centuries of knowledge in math, physics, chemistry and biology into countless engineering and technology solutions. In turn, this allows us to devise experiments through which we can capture observations we could not have imagined before.

Earlier this month, Risk & Insurance (R&I) reported on BWC’s Occupational Safety and Health Research Program. Needless to say, R&I reporter Michelle Kerr provided an excellent summary of the research projects funded by BWC that many fine researchers in six major higher education and research institutions in Ohio are undertaking. I’d like to take this opportunity to elaborate.

Out of the nine projects funded by BWC, four projects at The Ohio State University (OSU), Case Western Reserve (CWR) and Cleveland State University (CSU) use state-of-the-art technology to capture experimental data and observations that researchers could not capture before. For example, researchers at OSU’s Spine Research Center – led by William Marras, Ph.D. – are performing an experiment to model spinal compression and shear forces experienced by subjects performing pushing and pulling tasks using real-time data acquisition systems consisting of 42 cameras and wearable Lumbar Motion Monitors. OSU lab

They funnel this data from more than 20 sensors and 42 cameras into a model that provides real-time analyses of the spinal compression and shear forces experienced by the subject at any point of time during the experiment. Not only that, they  are using a programmable testing rig for simulating pushing and pulling tasks encountered by workers in real work environments.

CSU is using somewhat similar technology to capture observations on body movements encountered by health-care workers while performing patient handling tasks in a nursing home environment.

SubjectPushTurnMeanwhile, researchers at OSU have devised a programmable testing rig that can account for forces encountered by workers operating powered wrenches. CWR researchers are designing a shoe insole that captures real-time gait data from construction and wholesale/retail workers. It then transmits this data to an iWatch for further analyses at a later time.

Those among us who still remember Atari could not imagine there would be a time when something like Pokémon Go exists. Much like technology has moved from Atari arcade games to XBOX Call of Duty, it has also radically changed what researchers can do in and outside research laboratories to unprecedented levels. These research projects will not only provide recommendations for improving safety, but will improve use of technology in this type of research for more and improved future research work in this area. Through that, technology solutions for preventing injuries caused by overexertions as well as slips, trips, and falls are becoming closer to reality than ever before.

There is no one research project among these that is enough. However, collectively they will add to our knowledge and ability to prevent occupational injuries and illnesses and improve safety. So, why research? The answer is simple. Research advances our knowledge and, throughout history, better knowledge is the single common denominator for improving lives.

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