Management Personnel Safety

Consider Maintenance Ergonomics

EP Editorial Staff | September 1, 2022

Technology facilitates an approach to workplace safety that is more than just reactive, forging a path for fully integrated end-to-end ergonomic solutions.

By Dr. Klaus M. Blache, Univ. of Tennessee Reliability and Maintainability Center (RMC) and Toni-Louise Gianatti, Soter Analytics

The International Ergonomics Association, Geneva, Switzerland (iea.cc), defines ergonomics/human factors as, “the application of psychological and physiological principles to the engineering and design of products, processes, and systems.” The word ergonomics comes from the Greek “ergon” which means work and “nomos” which means laws, so it can be defined as the “laws of work.” Applying ergonomics removes work stresses (including physical and cognitive) to fit the worker in an optimal performing environment. 

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Washington (osha.gov), has identified that musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) affect the muscles, nerves, and tendons. Work-related MSDs (including those of the neck, upper extremities, and low back) are one of the leading causes of lost workday injury and illness. MSDs are the largest category of workplace injuries and responsible for about 30% of all worker’s compensation costs (according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics). From an industry perspective MSDs include risk factors typically tied to an overexertion or repetitive motion, such as lifting heavy items, bending, reaching overhead, moving heavy loads, and working in awkward body postures. This can result in injuries such as a pinched nerve, sprain/strain, meniscus tear, or carpal-tunnel syndrome. A single incident can easily cost from $60,000 to $90,000 of direct and indirect costs. Additional costs may include any OSHA fines, legal costs, or third-party liability.

Traditional methods of preventing these injuries have proven to be largely ineffective in creating any real change. AI is shaking things as organizations around the world integrate AI-driven wearable and vision-processing technology into their ergonomic processes. One leading company in this field is Soter Analytics, London, UK (soteranalytics.com). The company, as explained by Toni-Louise Gianatti, has developed two AI-driven solutions that help management workers learn more about ergonomics, understand movement, and reduce injury risk. The wearable solutions also deliver analytics that advance following information explains their wearables that result in data/analytics that help advance training efforts.

Safety Wearables

“SoterCoach is an ergonomic training program that combines an AI-driven wearable device and a mobile app to improve individual worker safety. Auditory and haptic feedback alerts indicate when hazardous movements are performed, increase proprioception or body awareness, and reduce the overall risk of injury. A companion app shows progress and analytical data, as well as short training modules. SoterCoach also includes a central dashboard with in-depth data analytics for managers to assess risk areas and implement improvements. 

Key benefits of SoterCoach include:

• decrease in ergonomic injuries in the workplace
• significant cost reduction as a result of workplace injuries
• real-time data collection and notifications that engage employees in sustainable behavior change
• choice between a shoulder- and back-injury prevention program
lightweight, flexible device that can be clipped to any uniform or workplace personal equipment
• an autonomous program that reduces downtime with no need to connect to any workplace WiFi network
• an ergonomic safety solution that encourages employees to take ownership of their movement behaviors. 

AI Vision Processing 

SoterTask is a cloud-based AI video-processing solution that measures and analyzes risks associated with tasks in the workplace and helps implement controls to keep workers safe. Video captured through a mobile application is analyzed instantaneously, showing movement risks inside the app. Further data analysis is accessible through an online dashboard with detailed and visually appealing reports that display hazard information to facilitate risk assessments and comparisons, helping to eliminate risk. New tools or ergonomic techniques can then be introduced to assist with the task and reduce the injury risk. 

Key benefits of SoterTask include:

• fast, efficient risk assessments that capture and analyze tasks on the go
• automatically synchronized AI-processing and data analysis providing immediate results
• the ability to show processed videos to workers within minutes to engage them through a simple and intuitive risk-explanation form
• flexibility to apply task assessments anywhere—from workers to management, one small task or a large ergonomic project
• detailed risk assessment of tasks measuring beyond what the eye can see. 

For a more integrated approach to workplace ergonomics, the team at Soter Analytics recommends a combination of the solutions. Incorporating SoterCoach and SoterTask achieves a well-rounded, integrated solution that provides insightful data analytics, real behavioral change, and sustainable solutions for injury reduction. 

The technology facilitates an approach to workplace safety that is more than just reactive, forging a path for fully integrated end-to-end ergonomic solutions. The future of preventing and reducing injuries in the workplace is data driven. Data is fast becoming one of the most important corporate assets, especially as it has the power to generate predictive analytics. With predictive safety modeling, it’s possible to anticipate potential safety hazards through the interpretation of data. This is a powerful lens that can turn a usually reactive approach to workplace safety into a strong proactive one.” 

The Univ. of Tennessee Reliability and Maintainability Center will be adding Human Factors training as part of the RMIC (Reliability and Maintainability Implementation Certification) class offerings. The Soter technology will be used in select classes for education and training. When implemented correctly, ergonomics/human factors can improve safety, quality, culture, and productivity, and reduce the number of medical visits, absenteeism, scrap, and operating costs. EP

Based in Knoxville, Klaus M. Blache is director of the Reliability & Maintainability Center at the Univ. of Tennessee, and a research professor in the College of Engineering. Contact him at kblache@utk.edu.

Toni-Louise Gianatti is Head of Public Relations & Content at Soter Analytics, London, UK (soteranalytics.com).

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