Ergonomics means comfort and health
|From left: K. Zużewicz, Ph.D.,
prof. Maria Konarska, Ph.D., D.Sc.
Joanna Bugajska, Ph.D.Med.
(Ergonomics Department's Head),
K. Pawłowska, M. Malińska.
The Department of Ergonomics
was established in 1983 under the supervision of Professor Longin Paluszkiewicz, Ph.D., and comprised three laboratories – Physiology and Hygiene, Psychology and Sociology of Work, and Technology and Construction. Since 1991, the Department has been headed by Maria Konarska, Ph.D. At present, it comprises four laboratories – Biomechanics (headed by Danuta Roman-Liu, Ph.D., Eng. D.Sc. Eng.), Occupational Physiology and Hygiene (headed by Joanna Bugajska, Ph.D., Med. Science), Thermal Loads (headed by Anna Bogdan, Ph.D., Eng.), and Occupational Psychology and Sociology (headed by Dorota Żołnierczyk-Zreda, Ph.D.).
The multidisciplinarity required in ergonomics is reflected in the diversity of the employees’ educational backgrounds. The Department currently employs 27 people, including 22 with higher education, including psychologists (8), engineers (7), physicians (medical doctors) (3) and biologists (4). 9 people hold doctorates, 3 hold postdoctoral degrees, 1 is a full professor, 3 have commenced doctoral studies and 3 have commenced postdoctoral studies.
Department employees conducting scientific activity and providing expert opinions also participate in the works of numerous organisations closely associated with ergonomics, including the European Committee for Standardisation CEN/TC 122 Ergonomics (technical committees), Standardisation Committee no. 158 on the Safety of Machinery and Technical Equipment and Ergonomics, the Committee on Ergonomics of the Polish Academy of Sciences, the Polish Ergonomics Association, and the International Ergonomics Association (IEA).
In 2001, a summary of the 50-year-long activities of the Central Institute for Labour Protection in the area of ergonomics specified research directions which are prerequisites for meeting the challenges of the rapidly changing labour market, associated with Poland’s social and economic transformation. The following were deemed the most important: the determination of methods of measuring psychosocial stress and ways of counteracting it; the reduction of stress on the muscular and skeletal system at work; defining options to improve employment opportunities for people with disabilities and for older people; and the reduction of stress associated with unfavourable microclimates at workstations. These directions have been pursued over the last 10 years.
The Laboratory of Occupational Psychology and Sociology conducts research in two main areas:
1) identification and analysis of the sources of psychosocial risk arising from the nature of the job and individual employee personalities, as well as the impact of this risk on safety, mental and physical health, and employee professional activity,
2) development of specific actions and interventions in order to improve the level of cultural safety, well-being protection and operation for both employees and organisations.
The research is mainly focused on professional groups considered to be at greatest risk of psychosocial stress (including harassment and violence as well as permanent unemployment) including teachers, nurses, road transportation drivers and fire-fighters. People with disabilities have become the subject of scientific interest for the same reason. In order to better identify psychosocial risks in these groups, appropriate psychometric tools or adapted globally-recognised questionnaires have been developed alongside anti-stress interventions and programmes aimed at improving the culture of occupational safety. In addition, diagnostic studies of psychophysical capabilities (e.g. driver testing) are being developed alongside the promotion of global solutions in the area. International cooperation with numerous European research and application projects provides significant support in this area.
The aim of further research is the expansion of psychosocial risk factor analysis to include newly arising factors, such as uncertainty of employment, increasing intensity of work or new forms of employment, as well as with groups of employees most frequently affected, including employees in the hotel and restaurant sector, and young and aging employees. The research will also focus on those elements of the working environment which may effectively minimise new hazards, meaning ‘healthy’ restructuring, appropriate management style, flexible working hours, programmes aimed at improving safety culture, or maintaining the homework balance, and factors increasing the employees’ innovation and creativity.
The Laboratory of Biomechanics focuses on assessing muscular and skeletal disorders in employees, related to developing assessment methods and criteria for determin- ing the risk of developing muscular and skeletal ailments. The work involves multi-element computer modelling of the human body made of finite elements. The models make it possible to assess internal load within joints depending on parameters which define body position and the forces exerted by the employee. Further development aims to increase the accuracy of the models with respect to the structure and optimisation criteria.
Alongside typical research using electromyography (EMG), innovative studies are being carried out aimed at developing EMG signal indicators to enable the assessment of muscle fatigue with respect to low levels of muscular power. The recorded EMG signal is analysed through load and fatigue indicators in general use, as well as using new methods based on a continuous wavelet transform (CWT). Research aims to develop increasingly more detailed and sensitive indicators of muscle fatigue.
The Laboratory of Biomechanics has also developed a risk assessment method for muscular and skeletal ailments of the upper limbs caused by carrying out repetitive tasks. In addition to improving the existing and developing new evaluation methods and criteria, assessment of muscular and skeletal loads in different groups of employees and at different types of workstations is being carried out. The main focus of the Laboratory of Physiology and Hygiene of Work is the characterisation of hazards and evaluation of risk arising from exposure to various agents present in the working environment, such as dynamic and static physical effort, repetitive tasks, and ultraviolet radiation during work in the open air. Research results are used to determine physiological criteria for people performing jobs of a particular nature, and to determine safe working conditions for ageing employees, taking into account those employees’ changing physical abilities as they age. Studies are also carried out to determine the frequency of occurrence of ailments and overload syndromes affecting the muscular and skeletal system depending on the job being performed, individual factors and lifestyle. It is necessary to identify the impact of psychosocial working conditions on the occurrence of overload syndromes in order to define comprehensive prophylactic activity for people performing a variety of jobs.
The results of research into the motivation of people with disabilities to undertake professional work, and the assessment of the impact of professional work on their quality of life, are utilised to develop methods of assessing the progress of medical and professional (social) rehabilitation of people with impaired motor function.
Studies aiming to improve occupational safety and protection of health of employees working shifts and at night are also being carried out. Analysis of the involvement of human factors in accidents at work, assessment of psychophysical ability alterations throughout the day, and chronophysiology knowledge are used to propose changes to work process organisation and recommendations with respect to occupational hygiene for this group of employees. Particular emphasis is placed on the impact of the working environment on the mechanisms of cardiac rhythm control, associated with autonomous nervous system activity. The Laboratory of Physiology and Hygiene of Work also conducts research assessing the severity of physical load based on the measurement of energy input in actual work environment conditions.
The research conducted by the Laboratory of Thermal Loads is the impact of the thermal environment in the broad sense on the human body. The Laboratory conducts comprehensive assessments of thermal interactions between man and his environment, allowing for changes in human physiological parameters, air quality at workstations, and the influence of clothing. The following unique research equipment is utilised: a climate chamber (allowing for the simulation of air parameters between -40 oC and +70 oC), a thermal mannequin, a thermal head, physiological examination equipment, a thermal camera, and climate meters. The research equipment is supplemented with a locally-developed virtual thermal mannequin.
Research and development projects are carried out in cooperation with leading Polish and foreign research centres, including: a project focusing on personal protection and fixed structures made of fibrous composites using modern ballistic methods; an original research project regarding thermal comfort and work efficiency in offices individual ventilation systems are in use; the PROHELM international project as part of Action COST 357: Accident prevention options with motorcycle helmets; an international project under the EU 6th Framework Programme: Development of a cost-effective moisture and thermal barrier layer for protective clothes based on an innovative combination of warp-knitted textiles and hydrogel polymer coatings, introducing new standards which will prevent low quality imports and increase competition of 20000 SMFs – SAFE&COOL; and an international project under the EU 5th Framework Programme: Thermal Insulation Measurements of Cold Protective Clothing Using Thermal Manikins – SUBZERO.
Cooperation with industry is also of great importance, enabling the development of innovative models of heatinsulating clothing to be used both at work (e.g. surgical clothing) and in sports and recreation (e.g. clothing for mountaineers). The Laboratory operates within a quality assurance system, conducting research in accordance with 7 notified research procedures.