by Tina Olivero

    Is ergonomics on helicopters a priority?

    The results of a ground-breaking project into the body sizes of UK offshore workers on board various helicopter crafts has been recognised with an award for outstanding contribution to ergonomics.

    The three-month study was a joint project by Robert Gordon University (RGU) and Step Change in Safety, in response to a mandate from the Civil Aviation Authority to ensure offshore workers were sitting adjacent to windows through which they could make an emergency escape.

    The project involved measuring the shoulders of a 75,000 strong workforce to establish how many were designated as ‘XBR’ or ‘extra broad’. With these figures in mind, the team would be able to advise eating logistics which maximised the probability of successful escape, following concerns about window egress in an emergency situation.

    Following the project’s completion, the team has been awarded the William Floyd Award from the Chartered Institute of Ergonomics and Human Factors, for outstanding and innovative contributions to the field.

    The study was led by Dr Arthur Stewart, from RGU’s School of Health Sciences, who has previously been recognised for his ongoing work into the size and shape of the North Sea offshore workforce.

    Speaking about this latest work, Dr Stewart said: “With the size of the workforce being so vast, I devised ‘train the trainer’ and ‘train the measurer’ teaching packages, which gave us a group of over 1000 individuals capable of gathering the measurements for us, within specified quality assurance targets.

    helicopter ergonomics

    “Thanks to their hard work, we were able to discover that approximately 3% of offshore workers had a shoulder breadth exceeding 55.9cm, reaching XBR status and we could then examine the safety implications of their seat positioning within the different models within the helicopter fleet.”

    Dr Stewart worked collaboratively throughout the project with Emily Taylor, a senior business analyst from Step Change in Safety, who oversaw a range of aspects of the work, including being the central liaison with industry stakeholders such as the CAA and helicopter operators.

    Her work also included the marketing and promotion of the scheme directly to the workforce and licensing of equipment required.

    Emily said: “At Step Change in Safety, collaborating with organisations and the wider oil and gas industry is what we do daily in order to improve safety and effect change. Sticking to our ethos we came together with each organisation to deliver this important project.

    “Collaboratively, we identified a specific issue, created a simple more sustainable solution which was easy to roll out, with minimal disruption to the user and the sector. We wanted this to work for the workforce.”

    Also playing a key role was RGU MRes graduate Robert Ledingham, from Survitec, who was seconded to the project after previously working with Dr Stewart on his size and shape study.

    Robert oversaw logistics for the study and organised a number of training events for measures, is one of the trainers himself.

    Following the project’s success, Robert said: “It was a great privilege to be part of this project, working with a diverse team of industry and academic professionals. Being able to continue the work I undertook during my Masters of Research project and apply the findings to a real-world health and safety application was a rare and fortunate opportunity of which I am proud.”

    The team accepted their award at an event held at Birmingham’s Hilton Metropole Hotel which hosted the 2018 Chartered Institute of Ergonomics and Human Factors Annual Conference last week.

    Dr Stewart added: “I think this award goes some way to prove the strength of interdisciplinary work across different sectors and the important strides we can make in terms of improving the safety of our vital workforce as they travel to and from offshore installations.”

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