BME Professor Robert Radwin helps author federal ergonomics study
University of Wisconsin-Madison biomedical engineering Professor Robert Radwin is an author of a new federal study showing the far-reaching impact of work-related musculoskeletal disorders, a national health problem resulting in lost work time for approximately 1 million people each year.
Radwin was part of a 19-member committee of the National Research Council Institute of Medicine, which released today a two-year study titled "Musculoskeletal Disorders and the Workplace." This class of disorders, which includes lower back pain, and hand and wrist injuries such as tendonitis and carpal tunnel syndrome, creates an economic burden of an estimated $50 billion annually in compensation costs, lost wages and lost productivity, according to the study.
"The consequences of musculoskeletal disorders and the fact that many of these disorders are preventable, justify a broad, coherent effort to encourage ergonomic strategies in the workplace," says Radwin, biomechanics researcher and chair of the department of biomedical engineering.
"These actions, in conjunction with a targeted research agenda, can dramatically improve situations for millions of American workers each year," Radwin adds. "In addition to revising and improving the systems used to collect data about these disorders, research is needed to learn more about the nature, severity and degrees of work-relatedness of musculoskeletal disorders so employers and health care practitioners can better address these problems."
The study was commissioned by Congress to coincide with new workplace ergonomics standards being formulated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Radwin is the only scientist from the state of Wisconsin on the 19-member Institute of Medicine committee. Radwin was selected to participate on the committee because of his number of years of research in the recognition, causes and control of musculoskeletal disorders in manual work. He has published extensively on measurement and analytical methods for assessing exposure to physical stress in the workplace; understanding ergonomics aspects of the design, selection, installation and use of manually operated equipment such as hand tools; and quantifying deficits associated with musculoskeletal disorders for medical treatment and rehabilitation.
Among other things, the panel concludes:
- There is a clear relationship between back disorders and physical load-- manual material handling, load moment, frequent bending and twisting, heavy physical work, and whole-body vibration.
- For disorder of the upper extremities, repetition, force and vibration are particularly important work-related factors.
- Modification of the various physical factors and psychosocial factors could reduce substantially the risk of symptoms for low back and upper extremity disorders.
- To be effective, intervention programs should include employee involvement, employer commitment, and the development of integrated programs that address equipment design, work procedures, and organizational characteristics.