New ergonomics lab to study workplace injury opens

Work shouldn’t hurt.

That’s the motivation behind the research of Brock University Kinesiology Assistant Professor Michael Holmes.

“By studying how people move and use their muscles on the job, we will be able to rethink and redesign workplace tools and spaces to make occupational tasks safer and more efficient,” says Holmes, Canada Research Chair in Neuromuscular Mechanics and Ergonomics, who officially opened his new lab at Brock Tuesday afternoon.

Holmes’ research, which seeks to find ways to prevent injuries, has helped benefit nurses experiencing lower back pain due to patient handling, police officers and emergency responders who spend a lot of time in vehicles, office workers and many others.

Brock Kinesiology student James Parkinson

Brock Kinesiology student James Parkinson demonstrates some of the equipment now available in the new Neuromechanics and Ergonomics Lab.

“By evaluating and redesigning equipment, we are able to reduce the physical demands associated with repetitive activities,” Holmes explains. “For example, working with industry partners such as Notion Medical, we tested and evaluated a new IV pole which reduces the amount of overhead reaching required by nurses to load IV bags. This is a task that doesn’t appear to be physically demanding, however, when performed repetitively, over time injuries can develop.”

On Tuesday, Oct. 3, Brock was joined by community partners as it opened its first Neuromechanics and Ergonomics Lab. With funding from the Canada Foundation for Innovation, the newly renovated space features more than $150,000 in state-of-the-art biomechanics, neurophysiology and ergonomics equipment including motion capture cameras, robotics, brain stimulation and electromyography.

“This isn’t a typical ergonomics lab,” says Holmes. “It offers a unique and innovative approach to studying workplace injuries by combining techniques from neurophysiology and biomechanics.

“It will allow us to better understand how people become injured as a result of their work by simulating workplace tasks and then developing ergonomic interventions to reduce that injury risk.”

The robotics technology used in the lab has applications for pilots having to control joysticks and surgeons, dentists and construction workers who regularly hold tools for their jobs. This technology, which is one-of-a-kind in Canada, will also help improve current rehabilitation protocols for individuals with neurological impairments or those currently unable to work as a result of a workplace injury.

“We are very excited to showcase our new facility and to express our appreciation to the Brock community,” says Brock University President Gervan Fearon. “The goal of this lab is to benefit the lives of Canadians and the vitality of our communities.

“While this research has applications for several occupations and professions at the national level, the Niagara community can look forward to immediate benefits resulting from community and industry partnerships,” Fearon says.

In the past year, Holmes has been awarded more than $800,000 in federal and provincial funding from the Canada Research Chairs program, Canada Foundation for Innovation’s John R. Evans Leaders Fund, with matching contributions from the Ontario Research Fund for Small Infrastructure Funds, and a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) Discovery Grant. Funding from the Canada Research Chairs, program and NSERC supports Holmes’ graduate students, who are instrumental to the labs success.

“Our scientists need the best tools and equipment for ground-breaking research and discovery and we are committed to ensuring they have them,” says the Honourable Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science. “Their successes will lead to an improved economy and will fuel an active research community here in Canada and internationally.”

Work plays an “extremely important role in our lives, taking up the majority of our days,” says Dr. Roseann Runte, President and CEO of the Canada Foundation for Innovation. “At the CFI we understand the importance of supporting the best design of space and equipment to improve the health of all Canadians in and outside of the workplace.”

Work-related pain and injury to the upper extremity are primary reasons for illness, sick leave and disability among workers, but each person is different, says Holmes.

“Through research collaborations with other Brock kinesiologists, community and industry partners, I hope to keep making healthy differences in people’s lives.”

Egonomics lab opening

Brock University Kinesiology Assistant Professor Michael Holmes works with Kinesiology student James Parkinson in the new Neuromechanics and Ergonomics Lab, which opened Tuesday, Oct. 3.

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