CEAS Faculty Helps Reduce Workplace Injuries

What would you do with 46 billion dollars? According to the Liberty Mutual Research Institute for Safety, the US spent at least 46 billion per year on the top 10 causes for disabling workplace injuries. The total workplace injury costs are much higher!

With rising healthcare costs, it is no wonder that industries are looking for help to reduce workplace injuries. At UWM, a unique partnership between the university and the power industry is making great strides towards improving workplace safety and ergonomics. Dr. Naira Campbell-Kyureghyan is the founder and director of the Consortium for Advanced Research in Gas Industries (CARGI). CARGI is dedicated to improving ergonomics, safety, productivity, and quality in the energy industry through high-impact research, training, and service. The consortium was established in 2009 with UWM researchers and member companies including WE Energies, LG&E, KU, NiSource, and the Gas Technology Institute.

Consortium members are active in all phases of energy production, distribution, and power generation, and take a proactive approach to improving workplace safety. According to Mr. Jewel Currie, Director of Transportation, Health and Safety at We Energies, “We Energies is big on encouraging further education. CARGI started a unique research program around gas operations in the ergonomic area and we are extremely pleased to be part of their team. In the utility industry today, ergonomics is a key factor to improving and preventing injuries in the workplace. We also look at this as a positive relationship between UWM and several like utilities.” Mr. Joe Hudson, Environmental Health and Safety Programs Manager for Northern Indiana Public Service Company, a subsidiary of NiSource, Inc., continues “Regulatory compliance, human behavior and engineering solutions are the three key components to a sustainable safety and health program. Our relationship with the CARGI team has advanced our knowledge in ergonomic concerns in each of these areas for our gas distribution team. We are pleased with their performance oriented approach to our accident prevention efforts.”

The CARGI supported research meshes with the basic research performed in the Spine Biomechanics and Material Testing and Imaging Laboratories supervised by Dr. Campbell-Kyureghyan. In these labs, students perform research into topics as diverse as the response of tissue to various loads, including injury tolerances, the protective properties of gloves and kneepads, and the relationship between bone density and mechanical properties. Having a chance to apply their research to real world problems allows students to see the potential positive impact of their work on the lives of people. In addition, CARGI is dedicated to spreading the word about safety and ergonomics in general, and the research performed at UWM in particular. To that aim, CARGI sponsors symposia and presents at conferences worldwide to highlight the ongoing programs at UWM.

In October 2010, Dr. Campbell-Kyureghyan lead a team of faculty and staff in CEAS that received a prestigious Susan Harwood Training Grant from the Department of Labor entitled “Safety and Ergonomics for Small Business Utility Employees and Contractors”. The grant provides funding for research into safety and ergonomics in a specific industry sector, aimed at development and presentation of training programs to companies in Wisconsin and the surrounding states. According to Dr. Campbell-Kyureghyan, “Service and partnership with local industries is a big part of what the College is trying to accomplish. This federally sponsored program allows us to provide high quality training to small businesses and their contractors at no cost to them, and to give our students an opportunity to apply their research and to make valuable contacts.” To date, over 1000 employees and management of small businesses have received training through this and a previous grant dedicated to foundry operations. “It is very rewarding to follow a project from very theoretical research through developing applications and into service and education”, adds Campbell-Kyureghyan. “Forming CARGI at UWM creates this unique opportunity to address all aspects of injury prevention. It is a win-win situation for both the university and our industry partners.”