What we learned at the 2021 ergo conference

Whenever our team heads off to a professional conference, I am hopeful that we’ll come back invigorated with new ideas that will revolutionize the way we work. I also hope to stock up on material for another year of blogs, social media, and ergo bulletins.  This year, our team members (Josie, Dennis, Carrie, and 3 interns) participated virtually in the International Ergonomics Association conference, being hosted from Vancouver. We succeeded in hauling away a ton of useful content. Perhaps more importantly we also came away feeling confident that the approaches that we’re using in our practice are solid.

Here are a few of the highlights, drawn from our collected conference summary notes and scribbles. You’ll get some sense of the breadth of topics that were included – with a dozen concurrent sessions, even with 6 of us, we could only cover half the sessions!

  • The left arm is generally 10% weaker in all directions and hand locations, in comparison to the right arm. However, if you look at females alone, the difference between hands is only 5%. Amongst left-handers, the dominant (left) hand is only 4% stronger. (LaDelfa)
  • Robots always win at pattern recognition. (Sonne)
  • Canadian researcher Karen Messing presented a keynote and presentations about gender differences at work. We’ve ordered her new book, here.
  • If you haven’t already, look up the WELL Building Standard . Section 73 deals specifically with ergonomics.
  • New technology that we’d like to play with: ErgoArmMeter app (available in the app store), which measures arm elevation in real time (an inclinometer).
  • Kansei engineering” refers to “feeling engineering” in Japanese. An example is designing re-usable grocery bags that people get attached to, which encourages their use. If something about the colour, texture, size or style appeals to you, you’ll be more likely to use the bags. Otherwise you might re-buy bags every time, which defeats the purpose.
  • More technology we hope to play with: Ergo4All: a risk assessment and ergonomic guidance tool (Bourret, et al.), currently in Beta.
  • The government of Canada has an analysis system for evaluating gender-based equality. More info here.
  • Neumann presented his research that showed that many of the risk factors for quality issues coincide with those for musculoskeletal disorders and urged that, “Ergonomists should be working with both Health and safety and Quality teams directly.”
  • Rogerson presented an interesting study on interactive wayfinding, where visually impaired pedestrians scan digital QR codes, posted on street signs at every corner (trialled in Murcia, Spain). The QR codes can link to historical facts, or directions, in many languages. Remarkably, the user does not need to aim the phone directly at the QR code, since it can be detected at a long distance. Check it out here.
  • Universal design can be viewed as the inverse of designing for the elderly, or designing for disabled…it aims to design for ALL rather than for a specific population. In various locations around the world, universal design is also referred to as Inclusive Design, Barrier-Free Design, and Design for All.
  • We don’t often think about highly skilled professionals as being at risk of strain/sprain injuries. However, microsurgery typically requires a surgeon to sit, operate a foot switch, view through a microscope, and perform prolonged, intricate hand work. New “heads up surgery” procedures allow the surgeon to view the procedure on a large screen using 3D imagery, which has been shown to reduce physical and visual fatigue (Eckardt et al.). Another presentation focused on the design of chairs used for surgery, using a downward sloping seat pan and lumbar support.
  • Almosnino presented a paper showing that a Digital Human Model (software) could design better load placement locations than living human factors specialists! Humans tried to do the best they could with the space available, but the model worked strictly within constraints set out by the researchers. If the researchers identified that a specific lower back compression force was unaccepable, then the software would NOT put loads in those locations, whereas people would.
  • Worksafe BC has done a lot of work applying ergonomics in childcare settings. Check out their website for some great ideas (search child care).
  • Ideas for accommodating an aging workforce: Consider providing flexible scheduling solutions (shift length, recovery time, and training tasks), and assign older workers to tasks that require lower physical demands and higher cognitive demands, to take advantage of their expertise.
  • We should consider exoskeletons as a form of PPE (low on the hierarchy of controls). Some research has also shown that exoskeletons can increase the demands of some job tasks, so caution is urged when implementing them.
  • The conference included a lot of talk about Industry 5.0. Industry 4.0 refers to automation using smart technology, and integrating the internet into all aspects of work. Industry 5.0 refers to a movement toward an approach that is:
    • Human-centric, promoting talents, diversity and empowerment
    • Resilient, with flexible and adaptable tech
    • Sustainable, respecting planetary boundaries, and
    • Solution-based (lower cost, empowered workers, attracting the best talent, providing a competitive edge)
  • Josie presented on our work in developing a process for virtual home office ergonomics assessment.
  • Carrie presented on how we use complex biomechanical models to communicate simple messages when identifying and documenting best practices, sharing case studies from various industries.

This is just a sampler of the takeaways that our team gathered. We learned, we laughed, we networked….we did all the things we would have done in Vancouver, except climb Grouse Mountain!

Leave A Comment