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Research at CROSH

To impact policy and practice, the multidisciplinary team of CROSH experts and their research partners will engage stakeholders in three broad streams for research - Human Factors and Ergonomics (HFE); Occupational Health (OH); Occupational Physiology and Environment (OPE) - that will support eight core research programs. The focus and objectives of each program are summarized below.

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CROSH will support eight integrated research programs drawing from expertise in human factors & ergonomics, occupational health, and occupational physiology & environment

CROSH RESEARCH PROGRAMS – 5 Year Vision

1. Vibration induced injury prevention research program

This program will examine vibration exposure, vibration transmissibility, vibration-induced disorders and stem-cell therapy. Vibration data will be collected during the operation of mobile equipment used in resource based industries (RBIs) and replicated at the CROSH lab using the vibration simulator robotic platform. This will lead to ground-breaking work on human response to vibration under rotated working postures (which are common amongst RBI equipment operators) and necessary to change international health and safety standards. In partnership with occupational physicians, the CROSH research team will document clinical evidence of vibration induced injury, with particular focus on linking workplace exposures to clinical evidence of vibration induced white-foot. The team will also collaborate with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and the Stem-Cell Network, to develop a mouse-model to test the efficacy of utilizing stem-cells as a therapy for vibration induced injury. To the team's knowledge, no such research approach is currently being undertaken in Canada. If shown to be beneficial in treating vibration-induced injury, stem cell therapy will revolutionize treatment for workers suffering from hand-arm vibration syndrome and vibration induced white foot.

2. Prevention of traumatic injury research program

This program will examine mobile equipment accidents from three perspectives: a) Machine Design and Driving Behaviour, b) Machine Interface Design and Cognitive Load and c) Fatigue and Traumatic Injury Occurrence. The primary objective of the machine design and driving behaviour research program is to identify an optimal secondary navigation aid or collision avoidance system designed to provide nearly 360 degree view around underground machinery that has notoriously poor line-of-sight. Once the camera system has been validated and deployed in the field, the team will measure the impact the system has on operator safety, comfort, cognitive load and ultimately, productivity. This will be accomplished through a lab-based study using a quantitative electroencephalograph (QEEG) and eyetracker to understand cognitive load and operator point of regard, while using the new display in a mocked-up cab and driving scenario. The machine interface design and cognitive load program will use an innovative QEEG technique to monitor the level of activity in different regions of the brain during machine/equipment interface usage. This work will lead to improved interface design, and decreased mental workload. The fatigue and traumatic injury occurrence research program will use portable sleep recording units to investigate the link between chronic sleep disorders and performance on a variety of cognitive factors, like processing speed, reaction time, executive function and memory. Impairments in any of these cognitive domains are likely to influence the subjects’ capacity for safe performance during work-related tasks. The sleep data recording unit will be used to objectively determine the quantity and quality of sleep a subject experiences during the night (or day if the subject is working the night shift) and the resulting cognitive deficits that may increase the risk for workplace accidents.

3. Musculoskeletal injury prevention research program

Using advanced methods of biomechanical analysis, CROSH researchers will explore how skill acquisition and motor control affect spine stability and spine loading. A lab-based research program will quantify the effect of vibration on neuromotor measures, as well as the impact of emotion on spine stability measures. The impact of cumulative spinal load associated with the operation of mobile equipment will also be evaluated to determine the benefits of improved seating posture and vibration attenuation on cumulative spinal loading reduction.

4. Occupational Epidemiology

CROSH researchers in this area will undertake surveillance studies of mortality and cancer incidence in various occupational cohorts and compare the results to standard populations; previous experience has been with four cohorts in the minerals industry for nickel workers and copper-zinc workers, and this could be expanded to other industries. Additionally, quantitative aetiological studies will be conducted to identify risk factors for various chronic diseases (particularly cancers) of occupational health interest and it is intended that this information be supplemented in the future with qualitative information to better inform exposure assessment, exposure standards and compensation boards.

5. Workplace Mental Health and Cognitive Factors

The CROSH researchers will focus on the status of worker mental health and cognitive functioning. Of particular interest is the relationship between measures of sleep quality and adverse health consequences, particularly among shift-workers. The researchers are also interested in understanding the complex interactions between mental health, sleep pathology, fatigue, cognitive impairment, and traumatic accidents involving mobile equipment. Interventions will be developed to impact policy and practice aimed at improving mental health in the workplace.

6. Workplace Well-being and the Quality of Worklife

CROSH researchers will use large-scale survey methodologies, quantitative analyses and qualitative measures of workplace well-being to better understand issues such as job stress, job satisfaction, organizational commitment, and work engagement. These variables will then be used to tackle issues such as absenteeism, and workplace injuries and illnesses. The link between physical fitness, leisure, work-life/work-family balance will also be investigated as these relate to worker health and wellbeing and workplace effectiveness and productivity.

7. Health Effects of Exposure to Airborne Chemicals in the Workplace

CROSH researchers will examine the health effects of air quality in the workplace, specifically the inflammatory effects in the airways and blood. This research group proposes to collect occupational exposure data in real-time and will also collect biological and physiological data while workers are on-the-job, to better describe the health effects of air quality. The air quality standards for some components of occupational air pollution (e.g. particulate matter) are based primarily upon technological capabilities, rather than health impacts. It is important to determine what is a safe level of exposure, particularly given that novel technologies are emerging to reduce emissions. Without worker data, it will be impossible to determine the health benefits of these changes. Likewise, this data can inform policy on standards development. Globally, worker populations are aging and generally this demographic shift is associated with an increased prevalence of chronic diseases amongst workers. Accordingly, one aspect of this innovative research will include longitudinal studies aimed at describing how air quality in the workplace impacts new, and experienced workers as well as workers with varying health profiles (e.g. obesity, hypertension, age).

8. Workplace Hazards and Reproductive Health

CROSH researchers will explore an emerging area of research linking vibration exposure to Penile Raynaud’s. The team will determine the prevalence of Penile Raynaud’s in ‘at risk’ worker populations (i.e. those afflicted with vibration white finger/white feet) through surveys. Interventions to reduce vibration exposure will also be implemented and evaluated.