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 In the series Ergo U:  Ergonomics Research Notes from the Field, VelocityEHS Director of Research and Ergonomics Engineer Blake McGowan meets with ergonomics researchers from leading universities and associations across the country to share their latest findings.

 Field Notes:  On an icy January morning, Blake had the opportunity to meet with Dr. Jack Lu and Dr. Brian Lowe from the Division of Applied Research Technology at the National Institute of Safety and Health (NIOSH) in Cincinnati, OH. The focus of the visit was to learn more about current and future research related to manual materials handling risks in the workplace. They discussed the impact of vacuum lifting systems on reducing spinal loading, the impact and efficacy of the revised NIOSH lifting equation to predict the risk of low back pain, and better evaluate complex, multi-lifting tasks using the complement of NIOSH lifting equations (Composite, Cumulative, Variable, and Sequential lifting equations).

Blake’s Take: “Wow. What a fascinating visit and history tour of the research behind manual materials handling. To be at the facility where Dr. Tom Waters led the development of the revised NIOSH lifting equation and published over 40 research papers to help ergonomics practitioners was truly humbling. To view the original data collection equation and hear the stories related to the research was a special experience. The applied research that has been and continues to be published increases our knowledge of manual materials handling risks and in the prevention of low back disorders Thanks to Dr. Lu for continuing that work.”

“After appreciating the past, I was even more excited to get a sneak peek of the new research that is under development and the proposed updated guidelines. Computer vision algorithms that can be used to predict lifting postures based only on dimensions of bounding boxes (box around the human) is pretty cool. It is anticipated that this practical algorithm can be implemented on handheld devices, such as a smartphone—making it readily accessible for practitioners to complete manual materials handling assessments. I also enjoyed the discussions related to the proposed changes to the NIOSH lifting equation, including the new risk exposure categories and risk levels. These changes will better align the equations recommendations with research, and make it easier for practitioners to demonstration continuous improvement.”

Additional Activities: During the visit, Blake was invited to present a NIOSH Musculoskeletal Health Program Webinar within the “Return on Investment (ROI) of Ergonomic Interventions and Programs” series. “Communicating the Value of Ergonomics to Business Stakeholders” was conducted on January 30, 2019. The recording can be viewed here.

Expert: Dr. Ming-Lun (Jack) Lu (PhD: University of Cincinnati) is a certified professional ergonomist and a researcher in the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), in Cincinnati, Ohio, USA. He serves as the manager for the NIOSH Musculoskeletal Health Cross-sector Program and the co-chair for the National Occupational Research Agenda (NORA) Musculoskeletal Health Council. His primary research interests include occupational biomechanics, field-based ergonomic risk assessments and epidemiologic research for the prevention of work-related low back disorders. Dr. Lu is best known by many researchers and practitioners for his long-standing work on the validation of the revised NIOSH lifting equation.