Sensor technology extends to work ergonomics

fre 14 jun 2019 10:57:00

In spring, Empower’s electricians working in a power line projects took part in ergo analyzing to find insight to the workload and work ergonomics. In addition, the ergo measurements compared the differences in climbing techniques between experienced and junior electricians and sought to identify best practices working in power line projects.

- For measurement and analysis we selected tasks known to be physically heavy, such as reinforcement work for thunderstorms and tying and cross-link installation work. These tasks include static work positions and upper body force movements. We started our ergo analysis to ensure that our employees feel well and can do the physically hard work without feeling too strained, says Antti Keskinen, Senior Vice President at Empower Power business.

The measurements were made with smart clothes developed by Finnish health technology start-up Myontec. In these clothes, the sensors measure the activity of different muscle groups and send data to the analytical software, which again compares the workload stress to the maximum force determined in the initial measurement. Myontec has been doing ergo analysis for about a year and around 40 companies, so the workload results can be compared to both general standards and previous results.

- Ergo analysis combines electromyography (EMG) knowledge, heart rate and video, which makes it easy to identify and link together the specific task, heart rate, movement and muscle activity. Technology we provide is unique because there are no similar service providers in the world who have the ability measure the same things with clothing and combine the knowledge for analysis, says Riitta Simonen from Myontec.

Empower's electricians started their day with tests to determine the maximum force of each muscle group. The results collected during the work day were then compared to the maximum results, thus finding out how many percent of the maximum fitness and endurance condition are loaded during the day in different work stages. The aim of the measurements was to get information on the influence of climbing technology and on the workload of the uppermost work positions.

- In the light of the results, I dare say that any measures that relieve the workload of the electricians working in the power line projects are welcome. The work involves a number of tasks which in particular are heavy for the forearm muscles. Climbing up to several tens of meters in the end seemed to be light compared to the rest of the tasks completed during the work day. The workload is especially straining for the upper muscles using maximum force as well as static muscle work, Simonen explains the results.

The study found out a few work stages that could benefit from having some of the workload eased, for example by developing work practices.

- Even with small changes in daily work, we can support our personnel in their challenging work, says HR Business Partner Laura Ahlblad. The workflow that is already in use between the pair of electricians’, one working under and one above the power line to balance the workload, is justified because the load is then differently applied. However, the results show that both work stages are heavy and require some downtime in return.

In light of the results, even walking from one pylon to another is heavy. The electricians wear a work harness and all the accessories that should be carried along. According to the results, this strains 48% of the maximal respiratory and circulatory system, and when the heart rate rises to 50%, people should be able to take breaks. Even at the end of the day the packing of goods, such as ripping a rope on a roll, is consuming and does not let the heart rate fall.

- By comparing the workload of an electrician working in a power line project with that of our other results, I can confirm that this work requires physical fitness of a firefighter. The difference is that the work of the power line electrician is done on a daily basis but the work of the firemen is concretized only occasionally in alarm situations, Simonen concludes.