Case Study for Underground Workers at an Electric Utility: How a Research Institution, University, and Industry Collaboration Improved Occupational Health Through Ergonomics

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Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene

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This article describes a collaboration between a research institution, a university, and a medium-sized electric power utility. Two ergonomics teams were created at the host utility to identify tasks with risk factors for musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) and propose ergonomic interventions for these tasks. Both ergonomics teams focused on tasks performed by underground workers: one team focused on manhole-vault tasks, and the other team focused on direct-buried cable job tasks. Several of the ergonomic interventions were tested in the ergonomics laboratory at the university. The results of one of the laboratory experiments indicated that a 2nd class lever tool reduced muscle forces required to remove and replace a manhole cover as compared with a T-handle attached to a hook and chain. The results of another laboratory experiment demonstrated that a battery-powered cutter reduced muscle forces to cut cable as compared to a manual cutting tool. A collaborative ergonomics effort is an effective method for identifying problematic tasks for workers in a particular industry, evaluating those tasks, and developing best work practices for that type of industry. This approach could be used by other industries in their effort to reduce the incidence, cost, and severity of MSDs in the


Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene, Vol. 3, No. 8 (August 2006): 397-407. DOI.