“With a lot of work rotation, the overall outcome is quite good”

Switching between different tasks has positive effects on strain ergonomics in ferries’ service departments, according to the first analyses of data collected in the Smart Workwear project. This spring, training material linked to the project will be available to everyone in the industry.
Smart work clothes have improved the load ergonomics among personnel at companies on land. The technology is now being tested on board ships. Jörgen Eklund, professor emeritus at the Royal Institute of Technology, told us about it.

The project aims to study the use of technology to improve ergonomics for service personnel on board ferries and is led by Jörgen Eklund, professor emeritus at the Royal Institute of Technology, who spoke about the study at the SAN conference. The measurements for the first part of the project have now been carried out and although the final report is not expected before August 2024, the researchers can already see some results. Among other things, it was noted that job rotation reduces the risk of harmful strains on the body, explained Jörgen Eklund in an interview after the conference.

“The results clearly show that with a lot of work rotation, the overall outcome is quite good. This is one of our most important conclusions. There are many tasks on board that can create issues if they are done for an entire shift, such as vacuuming carpets in restaurants or cleaning cabins, but if you switch tasks the strain is considerably reduced.”

There are many tasks on board that can create issues if they are done for an entire shift, such as vacuuming carpets in restaurants or cleaning cabins, but if you switch tasks the strain is considerably reduced.

The measurements were carried out on two ships, Viking Line’s M/S Viking Cinderella and Destination Gotland’s M/S Gotland, using smart workwear that consists of specially sewn well-fitting sweaters with sensors which measure working postures and movements in the upper arms and back during work. Data from the sensors is stored in a mobile phone during the work shift, and immediately afterwards a general analysis can be made on the phone.   Researchers can also assess in more detail at a later stage whether the work and tasks measured entail a risk of strain injuries.  Within the project, the researchers are also drawing up proposals for improving strain ergonomics among service staff. One method of reducing the level of strain is to rotate between tasks, but technical changes may also help. An example can be taken from cleaning bathrooms in the cabins.  In order to clean bathroom floors, staff must first bend down to lift the toilet brush off the floor and replace it afterwards.  This involves bending the back a lot during a work shift. 

“If the toilet brush is mounted on the wall instead,  you can clean the floor without having to bend your back as often and the work is a little easier and more efficient,” says Jörgen Eklund.  

The Smart Workwear project is now entering its next phase in which participants test a system for work technique training. Measurement sensors in the form of bands are worn on the upper arms and torso which provide direct feedback on the movements performed by participants. The feedback consists of vibrations in the bands that indicate how much you are lifting or bending your body.

“If you lift your arms more than 30 degrees, you feel a slight pulsating vibration.  If you lift them above 60 degrees, the vibration is stronger and longer.  The same thing happens if you lean forward.  If you bend your back more than 20 degrees, you feel a slight vibration in your torso.  If you bend more than 45 degrees, the vibration becomes stronger,” says Jörgen Eklund.

This immediate feedback on body movements has been shown in previous research projects to be an effective method of learning good work techniques, according to Jörgen Eklund.  The aim when training work technique is to keep the vibrations at a low level to achieve good ergonomics. 

“The fact that it vibrates does not necessarily mean that what you are doing is harmful.  Bodies are made for movement and they benefit from a moderate amount of bending and stretching, but you should try to find new ways to work with less vibration during a training session.  If there are too frequent and too strong vibrations, it shows that you need to change something,” says Jörgen Eklund.

Training material related to the Smart Workwear project will be developed during the spring and will be available free of charge.

The following tasks have been examined in the study:

• Vacuuming.
• Cabin cleaning.
• Stock handling that includes lifting.
• Work in the shop.
• Handling of tax-free preorders
(goods ordered by passengers and delivered directly to the car deck).
• Serving food.
• Clearing plates in the restaurant.
• Dishwashing.

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