Brock Professor gets $100,000 grant for Neuromechanics and Ergonomics Lab

When people think of their workplace, it is not often in terms of comfortability. The average worker is probably focused on getting the job done rather than potential injuries they could get. That is, until we encounter repetitive motion related injuries. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, one of these possible injuries, affects one in 20 Canadians and causes numbness, tingling, pain and clumsiness of the hand.

“People with carpal tunnel syndrome experience difficulty in performing tasks such as unscrewing bottle tops, fastening buttons, or turning keys,” says the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety. Solving these problems before they come up may take more than an ergonomic keyboard.

Ergonomics is the study of people’s efficiency in their work environment. At Brock University, Assistant Professor Michael Holmes in the Department of Kinesiology will be using a recently acquired grant to build a neuromechanics and ergonomics lab. The grant, $100,000 from the Canadian Centre for Innovation’s John R. Evans Leaders Fund, will be used to purchase equipment to create the new lab.

“The equipment is fundamental to everything we do, so the John R. Evans Leaders Fund is a really important program,” Holmes said in a press release. “There are very few funding avenues in Canada that allow you to purchase large, expensive pieces of equipment. I’m very thankful for this program.”

Holmes, who was awarded a Canada Research Chair in Neuromuscular Mechanics and Ergonomics at the end of last year, studies the way people move and interact with their work environment. The three new large pieces of equipment will help Holmes do that. The new purchases will include a motion capture system. The system will record participant’s postures while they perform tasks in a simulated work environment.

Another machine is a haptic wrist robot, which will allow the team to look at how the hand is controlled when working with equipment such as power tools. The third will measure electrical activity produced by skeletal muscles. Each person is different, says Holmes, and this new lab will allow him and his team to figure out why some people get repetitive motion injuries like carpal tunnel syndrome and other people who are performing the same tasks have little or no trouble at all.

“The hand and upper limb are engineering marvels,” explained Holmes. “Even trivial human-object interactions require a complex series of coordinated events from the brain to the start of movement.”

The research, says Holmes, will lead to new design strategies for tools and workplace equipment that will make work-related tasks “safer and more efficient…It will impact the lives of working Canadians because work shouldn’t hurt.”

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