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Published by Communications and Public Affairs (519) 824-4120, Ext. 56982 or 53338

News Release

January 16, 2003

Reducing on-the-job injuries focus of U of G research

A University of Guelph professor has received more than $350,000 in support to study ways to reduce and prevent repetitive on-the-job low back injuries in the automotive industry.

Jack Callaghan, from the Department of Human Biology and Nutritional Sciences, is a project leader for the AUTO21 Network of Centres of Excellence (NCE). AUTO21, funded by the federal government last year and based at the University of Windsor, aims to position Canada as a global leader in auto-related research by investigating issues critical to vehicles in the 21st century. It will distribute some $23 million to more than 200 researchers across the country.

Callaghan says the automobile industry has spent much time and money trying to prevent acute or one-time back injuries, such as those caused by heavy lifting. But there are few useful tools to prevent injuries caused by repetitive motions or cumulative loads on the spine. "As a result, people are getting hurt doing something relatively low in magnitude but frequently or for extended periods of time. I am working with colleagues across the country to create a measurement tool aimed at preventing these injuries."

Although there are ergonomic standards for defining the risks of acute injuries in the workplace, there is a lack of similar quantitative values to assess the risks posed by cumulative loading on the spine, Callaghan said. “We want to develop this set of standards to be used in the workplace to determine the risks associated with certain jobs. Being able to pinpoint the likelihood of lower-back injuries in some jobs would allow preventive measures to be taken, thus minimizing the risks."

Callaghan and colleagues at the University of Windsor, Wilfrid Laurier University and the University of New Brunswick have spent the past two years studying the motions of people and resulting loading exposure on assembly lines and in laboratory settings. The data have formed the basis for the development of a measuring tool to quantify cumulative loading. The tool looks at people's three-dimensional motions and compares them against a posture matching program to determine the amount of flexion, twist and lateral movement people are expending. It then calculates loading on the lower back.

"The next phase of the study will see us using this tool to document the loading that workers are exposed to daily and relating this exposure to the corresponding number of injuries reported," Callaghan said. "From that, we hope to develop a tolerance value, so we can look at somebody's work and be able to tell if he or she is above or below the point where injuries start to increase." If someone is found at risk for injury, the job could then be redesigned to make it less risky or the worker could be retrained to do the job differently, depending on where the problem lies, he said.

Project partners include Canadian Auto Workers union, one of the project's major partners. Other partners include Meritor Automotive Inc. and Cooper Standard Automotive.

Prof. Jack Callaghan
Department of Human Biology and Nutritional Sciences
(519) 824-4120, Ext. 54589/56897

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