Safety and OSHA News

New video technology detects likelihood of ergonomic injuries

How would you like to be able to point your smart phone or digital camera at an employee and find out whether their motions at work could lead to ergonomic injuries? The day when you’ll be able to do that may not be that far away.

Engineers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have developed a computer program that uses video of workers performing tasks to automatically assess the likelihood the workers will develop repetitive-motion injuries.

Lead engineer Robert Radwin says there’s currently no convenient way for companies to measure how much time people should spend doing certain types of jobs, including things like assembling a manufactured part or packing boxes.

Researchers have tried attaching sensors to workers. But the sensors get in the way of the employees doing their jobs as they normally would, and that produces questionable results.

Another option is manually analyzing video of workers. Researchers break motion into cycles, measure its intensity and frequency, and how long the workers pause in between motions.

But that’s time consuming and therefore expensive.

Radwin’s new method uses a computer to analyze videos of workers’ hand movements.

The analysis provided could help companies predict and alleviate the risk of injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome or tendonitis. And it would be at a much lower cost than having researchers review individual videos themselves.

For the moment, Radwin’s team is using the system to predict whether workers will develop carpal tunnel, but he says they will expand to other types of ergonomic injuries in the future. It’s also possible the system will be able to assess skills in specialized skills such as surgery.

The engineers will analyze more than 100 hours of video from studies, including one from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. NIOSH has provided $800,000 in grants for the study.

In the future, the tool could incorporate algorithms that enable companies to analyze video in real time. Radwin’s vision includes the ability for occupational health and safety analysts to take a smart phone or another small device with a camera, point it at an employee at work, punch a few buttons and then predict the risk of ergonomic injuries.

The journal Human Factors published details about the system.

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