All shook up

Researchers to study physical, mental stress of operating heavy equipment

It weighs more than 3 tons, costs more than $167,000 and is perched in the Women’s Building basement like an intergalactic metal spider straight out of science fiction. But instead of terrorizing the planet, the Six Degree-of-Freedom (6-DOF) motion platform will provide Assistant Professor Jay Kim with vital information to improve the health and well-being of professional heavy equipment vehicle operators.

Previous studies have shown a 60 percent to 70 percent prevalence of work-related musculoskeletal disorders among these professionals, and the leading risk factor for these disorders is whole body vibration (WBV). Off-road heavy equipment vehicle operators are at the greatest risk for neck and low back injuries because drivers are exposed to what researchers call multiple-axial WBV exposure. In addition to the vertical (z-axis), which also effects on-road drivers, off-road drivers are exposed to the fore-aft (x-axis) and/or lateral (y-axis). This multi-axial WBV exposure substantially increases stress on the spine.

What is not greatly understood is the exact cause of the injuries.

“There is a critical need to determine the exact injury mechanisms related to WBV exposure,” Jay says. “Without a clear understanding of how these mechanisms cause the development of work-related musculoskeletal disorders and how they may be mitigated, these workers will continue to suffer injury.”

The large-scale 6-DOF motion platform replicates the same vibration exposure measured in the field through its six electrical arms and will allow Jay and his research team to create a realistic field environment in the laboratory. Benefits of having the motion platform housed at OSU include flexibility in experiment scheduling and academic independence.

“The primary expected outcome of our studies is a clear delineation of the impact of WBV exposure on physiological and biomechanical stress,” Jay says. “These findings will be used as physiological evidence to explain the association between WBV and musculoskeletal disorders and will help us understand how different types of WBV exposures affect musculoskeletal systems.”

Six degree-of-freedom motion platform ready to collect valuable data

Jay says that the study findings will help to reduce WBV-related injury risks to levels that are unattainable with current industry standard approaches. With a better understanding of the effect of multi-axial WBV exposure, reducing that exposure for off-road vehicle operators will be possible.

The study also supports the National Occupational Research Agenda (NORA) Priorities and Research to Practice (r2P) initiative, which has identified the most hazardous industries in the United States as agriculture, construction, forestry and mining. This project aims to advance understanding of WBV exposure, which will lead to lower incidences of musculoskeletal disorders and result in increased occupational health and well-being to those who work in these dangerous industries.

More information on 6-DOF motion platforms can be found here.