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Ergonomics risk assessment methods for creating healthy work environments

Time: Fri 2023-06-02 09.00

Location: Emmy Rappnesalen (room T1), School of Engineering Sciences in Chemistry, Biotechnology and Health, Hälsovägen 11C, Huddinge

Video link:

Language: English

Subject area: Technology and Health

Doctoral student: Ida-Märta Rhén , Ergonomi

Opponent: Professor Anna-Lisa Osvalder, Chalmers University Of Technology

Supervisor: Professor Mikael Forsman, Ergonomi; Doktor Teresia Nyman, Ergonomi

QC 20230511


Risk assessments of ergonomic conditions in pre-production and in field are necessary to prevent work-related musculoskeletal disorders and to increase productivity and quality. Methods for such assessments include simulations, direct measurements and observations. In order to carry out correct ergonomic assessments, which is an important part in the work of creating healthy workplaces, it is vital that these methods are user-friendly, accurate and reliable. However, several methods are insufficiently tested with respect to these factors.

The aim of this thesis was to increase the knowledge of some relevant risk assessment methods for the prevention of musculoskeletal disorders. The methods include risk assessments in both planned and existing work environments.

A risk assessment approach for digital human modelling was developed. The approach included a reference database of epidemiological relationships between directly measured exposure and related musculoskeletal disorders. For illustration, a case in manual assembly was simulated; exposures were calculated and compared to the reference data to indicate the risk of work-related musculoskeletal disorders. The application and detailed assessment would be helpful to prioritise among different design solutions.

A 3D digital prototype of a laparoscopic robotic open console was ergonomically evaluated using the simulation tool Intelligently Moving MAnikins (IMMA); twelve manikins representing anthropometries of the Swedish and US populations were used. The work-ranges of the console and the manikins were calculated and compared. The ergonomics was evaluated using a US checklist and the Swedish standard for computer work. The assessment criteria, which are related to the adjustability of the screen, the armrests, and the pedals, were not fulfilled. The result showed that IMMA, with its built-in functions, provides the opportunity for risk assessment of planned static work tasks. With some improvements, tools like IMMA may increasingly be used efficiently for early assessments of planned products or work environments.

The inter- and intra-rater reliability and validity of six observation-based assessment methods, ART, HARM, SI, QEC, OCRA and SWEA, were studied through twelve ergonomists' and an expert group's repeated risk assessments of ten videotaped tasks. The results showed a low to moderate inter- and intra-rater reliability. Both the percent agreement and the reliability differed for the assessments of the methods' overall risk levels. Using a standardised task duration of 3.75 hours (rather than different durations for the different tasks) in the statistical calculations, the reliability of all methods decreased, except for OCRA. The decrease was most evident for HARM and ART, which was due to the fact that the duration of the task has a large impact in the methods' calculation of the total risk level. The validity was similar to the inter-rater reliability for each method.

This thesis emphasizes the importance of detailed quantification of exposure and reliable methods to draw accurate conclusions about the risk of musculoskeletal disorders, both in planned and existing work environments.

Today's technology, with small and wireless devices for direct measurements and methods for analysing physical exposure, provides opportunities to perform accurate and reliable ergonomic assessments. The possibility of using similar measurement strategies in digital human modelling, allows the discrimination of small differences in exposure which simplifies comparisons of different design solutions as well as between planned and existing work environment. Although the reliability of several observation-based methods was found to be low, observational methods are still important in the risk assessments of physical exposure, in order to include parts of the work environment that are not yet possible to measure. However, observational methods should preferably be used for screening and in combination with technical measurements.