Ergonomics Class Popular with Operating Engineers

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CPWR - The Center for Construction Research and Training

Summary Statement

Article describing an education program teaching workers how to identify ergonomic hazards by their bodily symptoms.

For two hours, operating engineers in Boston talk about their aches and pains. And nobody says it's boring. Members of Local 4 of the International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) in Roslindale, Mass., are taking a new class on ergonomics. In 1996-97, 140 employed engineers took nine classes.

Ergonomics is fitting the job and the workplace to the worker's health needs — like cutting the vibration in a cab seat or making a tool handle big so it will fit well in a worker's hand.

Taught by Susan Moir and Dorothy Wigmore, of the University of Massachusetts Lowell, the class uses the engineers' input. After all, workers know the most about their jobs. The 15 or more engineers in each class are given open-ended questions, questions that can't be answered just "yes" or "no." And the engineers learn in groups. One thing they do is mark the spots on a chart of a body — a body map — to show where their work causes pains.

Butch Bradley, 56, a crane operator, took the class when he went to the IUOE training center in Canton, Mass., to be recertified in hazardous materials operations (hazmat).

"I think everybody was pleased," he said, referring to his 30 classmates. Bradley, who runs 60 miles a week, says he's "in half- decent shape." But "anything so when we get out of this (construction) we can be in one piece" is good. Each 2-hour class answers four questions: What hurts? What makes it hurt? How do we find it? How do we fix it? After the engineers fill out a body map, they draw the equipment they work with and mark what needs fixing. In-between, they talk about what scientists say are "risk factors" for the sprains and strains.

"My pet peeve has always been the effect on the ears," Bradley said, noting many engineers have worked for years with machines in the cabs. His health and welfare plan will start covering hearing problems in January.

Since taking the class, Bradley said, he's "aware of how I move around the crane. I'm aware of tugging on joints, repetition of movement." At his suggestion, Bradley's employer, the Marr Company, in South Boston, invited Wigmore to give the class there and she did.

Moir says the class is not to teach the engineers to act a certain way. Instead it is to help them make decisions. When workers can identify parts of a job that can cause pain, they can begin to do something about the problems — if they can work with contractors and equipment manufacturers. The class has been developed as part of research with CPWR – Center for Construction Research and Training. Moir directs the Construction Occupational Health Project at UMass. She and Wigmore presented the class to 65 IUOEtrainers at a national meeting in April.

UMass Lowell will survey the trainees by phone in 1997-98 to help evaluate the effects of the class. If the reviews are good, Moir's project may expand the training to other trades and other issues.

Ergonomic concept
Open question
Work-related musculoskeletal disorders
What hurts?
Body map
Risk factors
What makes it hurt?
Matching knowledge
Job analysis
How do we find it?
Risk map
Job redesign
How do we fix it?
List and sort