The BCEOHRN Spotlight: Judy Village

Newsletter Feature – The BCEOHRN Spotlight!

The BCEOHRN Spotlight is a new feature that will be appearing regularly in BCEOHRN newsletters going forward. Based on suggestions from the membership, we will be interviewing BCEOHRN researchers and students and sharing their responses. We hope you enjoy getting to know other BCEOHRN members!

Our first researcher in the spotlight is Dr. Judy Village. She was recently awarded the Liberty Mutual Prize in Ergonomics for this paper: 

Please describe your general research interests for the BCEOHRN membership:
My research goal is the prevention and control of musculoskeletal disorders in the workplace through the application of human factors and ergonomic (HFE) principles to the design of work, including work layout, equipment, design of job tasks, and the organization of work. Improving the understanding of what aspects of work contribute to injury can then lead to solutions for the prevention of further injuries. My research has involved a wide range of jobs and workplaces, including health care, custodial workers, construction workers, manufacturing, the forestry and wood products sector and mining. 

What was the impetus behind this study?
The study, which formed part of my PhD dissertation, was a 3-year longitudinal action research collaboration with BlackBerry Ltd. The goal of the study, working with engineers and ergonomists at the new product realization site, was to find ways to integrate human factors aspects into the design of their assembly production lines as new products were being ramped for production. The impetus behind the study was to learn how HFE principles could be applied proactively in assembly design for the primary prevention of worker injuries and inefficiencies. 

How was the study funded?
The study was funded in part by BlackBerry Ltd, and through the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board in Ontario. Four students were involved, with additional funding through NSERC and MITACS. I was funded with an Alexander Graham Bell Scholarship through NSERC. 

What was the key result?
The main outcome of the study was a grounded theory that explained how human factors/ergonomics went from being a reactive, after-injury type of assessment performed within occupational health and safety, to becoming proactive HF targets enforced by Senior Directors of Engineering in each stage of the assembly design process. The theory proposed that when Ergonomists acclimated to the engineering design process, language and tools, and aligned their goals with that of the production engineers, they became a means to help improve business performance. At this point, Ergonomists are on the engineering team and Senior managers then wanted to hold their design engineers accountable for HFE. When engineering design tools were adapted to include HFE targets, and Senior managers recognized these targets would help achieve business goals, they held their engineers responsible for the HFE targets, thus locking HFE into the design process.

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How did you communicate the findings?
The study has resulted in 8 publications in scientific journals (one of which was nominated by publisher Taylor & Francis as one of the top 10 most popular articles of 2014), and 12 conference proceedings. The study was showcased as an invited keynote at the Association of Canadian Ergonomists (ACE) Annual Conference in Montreal in 2014, and was written in lay language for the popular American magazine “Industrial Engineer”. Recently, ACE hosted a full-day workshop based on the research to share with others common engineering design tools and ways to integrate HFE into early design of production systems.

What impact do you hope it will have?
What we learned applies to all occupational health fields who want engineers to design workplaces in ways that prevent health problems. When the Ergonomists shifted their goals from solely an injury focus, to one of helping engineers achieve their goals of designing efficient and effective production systems, there was far more interest in HFE. As Ergonomists, we need to learn more about strategic goals in the organization and how to align HFE with these goals. We also need to learn the design process, engineering tools and business improvement programs such as “lean manufacturing” such that we can integrate our principles into their processes to be most effective.

Who were your collaborators in BC and elsewhere?
The collaboration involved engineers and ergonomists from the Human Factors Engineering Laboratory of the Mechanical and Industrial Engineering Department at Ryerson University in Toronto, and engineers and ergonomists at BlackBerry Ltd.

What is your #1 networking tip for others working in this field?
Go to conferences, talk about your work, learn about other people’s work and share commonalities.

What’s next for you?
I continue to teach the Ergonomics course in the SPPH and am looking for further opportunities for research and collaboration that improves the design of work and promotes healthy workers.