Southeastern research directed toward reducing injuries among drywall installers

Contact: Rene Abadie


     HAMMOND A research grant has been awarded to a Southeastern Louisiana University occupational safety specialist to investigate methods of reducing injuries among installers of drywall.
     Lu Yuan, assistant professor of Occupational Safety, Health and Environment in the Department of Computer Science and Industrial Technology, received the $30,000 grant from the Center for Construction Research and Education, awarded through a cooperative agreement with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).
     Yuan said workers who handle drywall are at risk for variety of musculoskeletal injuries and disorders, especially to the lower back and shoulder areas.
     Drywall installation is a strenuous task, he explained, and can cause overexertion injuries due to the weight and bulk of the sheets. Drywall sheets vary by thickness and weight, ranging between 50 and 120 pounds. A previous NIOSH survey indicated that workers see their biggest risk of physical stress comes from lifting, carrying or holding drywall.
     “Drywall sheets are usually stored flat for stability, but this tends to make lifting the sheets more physically demanding,” he explained. “The size of the sheets is also increasing, which presents potentially more physical burdens to installers.”
     A specialist in biomechanics and occupational ergonomics, Yuan will use an integrated biomechanical modeling approach he developed previously in researching the effects of position and size of drywall on the physical demands for installers.
     “It is difficult to conduct direct measurements in field studies, especially in the construction industry, because it tends to interfere with the work,” he explained. “We will use computer simulation that integrates the methods of observational work sampling and biomechanical modeling developed in previous research.”
     He said the modeling approach starts with a methodology called PATH, for “Posture, Activity, Tools and Handling,” which provides the basic characterization of drywall installation work by quantifying the percent of time that drywall installers conduct different activities with different body segment postures.
     Recorded over two hours, the relative frequencies of key activities are used to construct the eight-hour workday activity series. The biomechanical model inputs variables such as joint angles, external load force and internal muscle parameters are generated using a specific random number generation method. The data are then put into three-dimensional equations for computer analyses of muscle contraction and joint reaction forces at the low back and shoulder.
     “The hope is to find a reasonable alternative for estimating physical loads associated with drywall installation and possibly reduce the incidences of overexertion and other injuries, Yuan said.”
     Yuan said results of the study could provide information to help the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) make recommendations about drywall size and storage position, as well as the safety and health of drywall handlers.

NOTE: This project is funded by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) cooperative agreement OH009762.

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