Ergonomics Musculoskeletal disorders

NSC awards grants in push to reduce work-related MSDs


Itasca, IL — The National Safety Council has awarded $274,000 in grants to nine organizations in an effort to advance new safety technologies aimed at reducing work-related musculoskeletal disorders.

MSDs are the most common workplace injury. They include tendinitis, strains and sprains, and carpal tunnel syndrome, and are the leading cause of worker disability, early retirement and limitations to gainful employment, NSC says.

The funding was distributed via the council’s recently launched Research to Solutions (R2S) grant and MSD Solutions Pilot Grant 1.0 programs. They’re the latest efforts introduced by NSC’s MSD Solutions Lab – a strategic initiative established in 2021 with Amazon to help organizations of all sizes reduce MSDs.

Unveiled in March, the inaugural 2023-2024 grant cycle called on R2S applicants to support one or more key research areas, including emerging technologies, solutions to jobs or tasks known to have high MSD risk, MSD management systems, future of work, and total worker well-being. This year’s R2S grant recipients:

  • Rutgers University ($75,000), to implement an automated image captioning system designed to help employers better identify ergonomic risk factors and real-time solutions
  • Iowa State University ($61,000), to develop a predictive model and artificial intelligence-based ergonomics app for risk assessment and mitigation that enables employers in high-risk industries to understand shoulder MSD risk in different scenarios affecting their workers – with and without an exoskeleton – to make more informed decisions about injury mitigation
  • Virginia Tech ($51,000), to implement inexpensive, camera-based and marker-less sensors along with machine-learning models to assess worker physical exposures and MSD risks more efficiently, accurately and comprehensively
  • University of Waterloo ($37,000), to generate evidence-based guidance on computer vision-based MSD risk assessment technology in the workplace, so employers can better determine the optimal approach and timing for integrating computer vision-based MSD risk assessment tools into their ergonomics programs

The MSD Solutions Pilot Grant 1.0 – created to help organizations prevent MSDs specifically caused by manual materials handling – provides MSD Pledge members with the opportunity to team with leading technology providers to trial emerging solutions in real-life applications. Pledge members selected for the inaugural $10,000 grant:

  • Amerisure Insurance, which will work with both computer-vision provider TuMeke Ergonomics and HeroWear – which specializes in passive back-assist exosuits – to prevent MSDs enterprisewide.
  • Burlington Hydro, which will use TuMeke’s computer-vision technology to assist with conducting ergonomic assessments of the company’s powerline technicians.
  • General Electric Aerospace Erlanger Kentucky, which will partner with HeroWear to better understand the operational benefits and worker impact of using exosuits to unload cargo trailers.
  • Guarantee Electrical Co., which will work with TuMeke to detect unsafe postures and glean data-driven insights to optimize its workplace safety programs.
  • Lafarge North America, which will team with TuMeke to use computer-vision technology to scan construction workers’ movements during manual material handling activities to better identify MSD risks and assess targeted solutions.

“Overexertion involving handling objects is the No. 1 cause of disabling workplace injuries,” said Paul Vincent, executive vice president of workplace practice at NSC, “and uncovering safer ways to help employees lift, lower and transport items is fundamental to achieving a drastic reduction in MSD injuries worldwide.”

The grant recipients will have an opportunity to present their safety findings at the 2024 NSC Safety Congress & Expo or another event next year.

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