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Engineering a safe workplace

Engineering researchers at The Ohio State University long have been known to improve products and services. Now they are gaining recognition and support for their expertise in improving safety for Ohio’s workforce.

The Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation (BWC) and Ohio Board of Regents recently awarded three grants to The Ohio State University totaling $577,595 to improve workplace safety.

Department of Integrated Systems Engineering (ISE) faculty will lead two of the projects. ISE Honda Chair Professor and Spine Research Institute Executive Director William Marras and colleagues will receive $249,268 to study low back and shoulder disorders resulting from pushing and pulling activities. Long-term, this work will protect workers from disabling musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). The more immediate goal is the development and dissemination of pushing and pulling workplace guidelines that help minimize MSDs.

A $248,931 grant will support research on prevention of upper extremity MSDs among torque tool operators in manufacturing facilities. A research team led by ISE Associate Professor Carolyn Sommerich and Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Associate Professor Anthony Luscher will develop a dynamic rig for assessing powered torque tools, specifically reaction force and displacement of the handle experienced by tool operators. Industry partners include Stanley Assembly Technologies, Honda North America, Inc., and General Motors.

In addition, Ohio State’s Agricultural Safety and Health Program will receive $79,396 to study the safety and health risks of stored grain facilities on Ohio farms. The project will be led by Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering Associate Professor S. Dee Jepsen. The hazards associated with agricultural confined spaces are a contributing factor to injuries, and have become a significant public health problem for this industry sector.

Evaluation of a pushing task using SRI's Biodynamic Model

"This funding will facilitate research efforts at Ohio State that will positively impact the health and safety of Ohio workers," said Professor Marras. "We expect that these projects will not only save workers lives, but will also greatly reduce the incidence of disabling injuries that affect both the quality of life for the worker as well as the ability of Ohio businesses to be competitive nationwide."

BWC created the research grant program as a part of the Another Billion Back plan that returned $1 billion to Ohio public and private employers last summer. The program is designed to support advanced research and promote innovation in the areas of workplace safety and health. Other higher education institutions selected for funding include Bowling Green State University, Case Western Reserve University, the University of Cincinnati, Cleveland State University and Ohio University.

"While workplace safety and accident prevention have long been part of our mission at BWC, we are pleased to now champion research in the area of occupational safety and health research," said BWC Administrator and CEO Steve Buehrer. "We are excited to partner with some of the finest academic institutions in Ohio to support research that could shift thinking on current workplace safety practices and introduce innovative approaches to preventing injuries and illnesses among Ohio's workforce."