A Collaborative Effort to Apply Ergonomics to Electric Utility Workers at Generating Stations
As part of a collaborative approach involving electric utility companies, university researchers, individual contractors and a not-for-profit research institute, two ergonomics teams consisting of skilled utility workers and trained ergonomists, were assembled. These teams were to identify tasks with risk factors for musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) among workers in fossil-fueled generating stations and and to propose ergonomic interventions for these tasks. One team focused on tasks of electricians and the other focused on tasks of plant operators and mechanics. Several of the tasks were tested in an ergonomics laboratory and at one of the utility's generating stations. We present a sample of the recommended interventions in this paper. An anthropometric analysis of electrical box height recommended the appropriate height for electrical boxes. The results of a field experiment showed that low rolling resistance wheels decreased the forces to initiate and sustain pushing a cart. The same experiment also demonstrated that the forces required to turn a cart with six wheels were lower than the forces equired to turn a cart with four wheels. A collaborative approach to ergonomics proved to be an effective method to identify and assess tasks that are problematic for workers and to develop best practices for these tasks in the electric power industry. This method could be used by other industries in their attempt to decrease the incidence, cost and severity of workplace MSDs.