Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Webcam System Reduces Workplace Back Problems

  • Researchers have developed a new desktop Webcam-based training method to improve posture and reduce the risk of MSD (musculoskeletal disorders) among office workers using computers.For companies to be agile, they rely on new technology to optimize processes, speed analysis and improve productivity. But many of these applications will not deliver measurable improvements if key personnel cannot work.
    What keeps workers out? Well, there are obviously many causes people miss days. A lot of them are unpreventable. But one of the largest factors that results in workforce absence is back pain. Specifically, musculoskeletal disorders (MSD) accounted for 28 percent of all reported workplace injuries and illnesses requiring time away from work in 2009 (the last year for which complete statistics are available), according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
    To put the impact of MSD to businesses into perspective, consider that an estimated 100 million work days are lost each year to low back pain. And this is estimated to cost employers $20 billion.
    Many times, MSD problems arise from workers sitting in an improper manner while working on their computers. To address this dilemma, a multidisciplinary team at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel has developed a new training method that uses a desktop Webcam to improve ergonomic posture and reduce the risk of MSD among office workers using computers.
    In their research, the university team worked with a group of 60 office workers. Participants received training in good posture techniques and were given frequent (and automatic) feedback from a system that displayed a Webcam photo of a worker’s current sitting posture alongside the correct posture photo taken during the training session.
    Both training methods provided short-term posture improvement. However, only the photo-training method provided continued improvement. In fact, the frequent and continuous feedback using photos was found to be effective in improving computer workers’ sitting posture over time.
    The research suggests that organizations should implement this type of frequent video reinforcement in addition to the conventional approaches that combine specialized ergonomic training and workstation adjustments.
    Interestingly, both methods (training sessions and automatic and frequent reminders via Webcam photos) had a greater effect on older workers and on workers suffering greater MSD pain. And the photo-training method had a greater positive effect, overall, on women than men.
    In light of the differences in effect between men and women, the researchers recommend that organizations consider combining supplementary feedback targeted to different audiences. For example, they suggest that an organization using the Webcam technique might consider adding more detailed feedback that would call attention to deviations from the desired pose for each body segment.
    This study was funded by a grant from Israel’s Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor to support the incorporation of video and computer-based technology to address occupational health problems.

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