IRSST - Institut de recherche Robert-Sauvé en santé et en sécurité du travail

Mechanical and Physical Risk Prevention

Mechanical and Physical Risk Prevention

Every year, many workers are victims of work-related accidents (some of them serious or even fatal) or contract occupational diseases because they are exposed to numerous hazards posed by the machines they operate and their work environment. In terms of prevention, actions can be taken at the source, in the work environment, with workers themselves and by implementing collective protection measures to eliminate the risks. When measures cannot be put in place to eliminate or reduce risks at the source, workers can be required to use personal protective equipment.

Plan quinquennal IRSST 2018-2022

The researchers in this field are specifically interested in assessing and reducing the physical and mechanical risks that can jeopardize workers’ health and safety, taking into account workers’ interaction with the machines around them and their work environment. The machines may be of the fixed or mobile industrial type or hand-held power tools.

The main physical risks include noise, hand-arm and whole-body vibration, and heat stress. The main mechanical risks include cuts, lacerations, needle punctures, crushing, and contact with machines, as well as falls from heights, slips, trips and falls on the same level, and trench cave-ins.

Research orientations

The activities conducted under the MPRP research field revolve around three main orientations:

  • Assessment of the mechanical and physical risks generated by machines or the work environment
  • Reduction of mechanical and physical risks
  • Taking the human factor into account in the evaluation and control of mechanical and physical risks

Research program

The Mechanical and Physical Risk Prevention (MPRP) research program is the result of in-depth reflection by members of the MPRP team, in conjunction with the Scientific Division and in line with the 2018-2022 five-year scientific and technical production plan, as well as the IRSST’s work of the past few years. Its aim is to find increasingly pertinent ways of addressing workplace themes. Twelve thematic programs are given priority:

The aim of this program is to conduct studies that will provide companies with robust, reliable tools for analyzing and evaluating machine-related risks.

The aims of this program are to gain insight into the problems related to equipment lockout, to study the components of a lockout program and the conditions conducive to its application in the workplace, and to determine alternative solutions when lockout cannot be applied.

This program is aimed at developing knowledge on the acoustic and vibratory performances of hand power tools and proposing ways to reduce their vibration and noise levels, ultimately to identify tool models with lower impact levels.

The aim of this program is to develop reliable, user-friendly methods and tools that can be transferred to workplaces to help them reduce worker exposure to noise by using acoustic barriers and materials. New noise-reduction technologies involving the use of innovative barriers and materials are also evaluated and created.

The aims of this program are to explore methods for evaluating the real protection provided by hearing protection devices in workplaces and to develop support tools for designing more effective and comfortable hearing protectors.

This program focuses on tools for selecting effective means of protection against trench cave-ins, and supporting the work of the review committee working on Québec’s Safety Code for the Construction Industry.

The aims of this program are to assess the resistance of protective gloves and clothing to mechanical and physical hazards, and to develop knowledge of the behaviour of materials in the presence of different types of hazards and of the impact of using equipment on physiological functions, motor function, and comfort.

This program concerns the development and application of test methods for identifying the collective and personal protective equipment best adapted to different work environments, taking human factors into account. This research work is also intended to provide a basis for designing new products, defining selection criteria, and supporting the development of standards.

This program is aimed at identifying the design requirements and technical prerequisites needed to select boots/footwear offering the best slip resistance (grip) on outdoor surfaces, especially ice, snow or surfaces that are wet from winter rain, and for various types of work environments. Comfort-related aspects that may influence the risk of slips are also studied.

The aim of this thematic program is to generate comprehensive knowledge that will make it possible to provide workplaces with guides and clear recommendations regarding optimal use of alarm signals, whether generated by fixed alarms or reverse (back-up) alarms on moving vehicles or structures.

The aim of this program is to design methods and tools that will help companies implement and use collaborative robots (cobots) in the workplace both safely and efficiently, by doing the preparatory analysis needed for safe operation of equipment and integrating risk reduction measures.

This program examines the safety of maintenance operations from the perspective of alternative methods to lockout. Its aims are to identify and validate alternative methods to lockout in order to ensure worker safety.

Concrete results

Awareness-Raising Document

Reverse alarms on trucks

Three types of reverse (back-up) alarms designed to ensure worker safety behind heavy vehicles were evaluated. A video was produced in French and English on the particular features and advantages of a new type of alarm (known as a broadband alarm) compared to conventional alarms.

alarmes de recul

Technical Document

Guide – Safeguarding of hydraulic power press brakes

A guide was produced specifically to inform companies the means available for safeguarding hydraulic power presses, mainly the risk of the operator being pinched and crushed between the dies. This guide focuses on two recent means of protection: the safety light curtain and the laser beam device.

Sécurisation des presses plieuses hydrauliques

Computer-Based Tool

Directory of safety devices for industrial machines

Accessible online, this directory facilitates access to information for Québec purchasers of these devices, machine and process designers, as well as OHS practitioners.

dispositifs de sécurité des machines

Technical Document

Anchoring system for guardrails on flat roofs

A prevention fact sheet (in French only) was produced to ensure adequate protection for roofers against falls from heights. It details the results of the IRSST’s research on the characteristics of the anchoring systems used for three models of guardrails.

chutes de hauteur

Intervention Tool

Risk management – confined space

A tool for analyzing and managing risks associated with confined space interventions. The e-tool CLOSE enables people qualified for risk management with respect to confined space work to take into consideration the main potential hazards.

eclos

Technical Document

Slips and falls outdoors

An information pamphlet presenting the steps to follow to choose occupational footwear offering good grip as well as adequate protection against other hazards is now available.

sélectionner une chaussure

Computer-Based Tool

Horizontal lifeline system (HLLS)

A tool for designing horizontal lifeline systems (HLLSs) is available online. It provides a user-friendly way of calculating tension in the cable, its deflection at fall arrest, and the clearance required in relation to the cable.

assurance horizontale

Awareness-Raising Document

Preventing falls overboard

A video and a technical fact sheet present prevention practices and strategies, as well as tricks of the trade, developed by professional lobster fishers for preventing falls overboard.

Preventing falls overboard

Technical Document

Safe blow guns

A technical guide was designed to help buyers choose a safe, efficient blow gun.

soufflette

Partners

Priority issues

Every year, many workers are victims of work-related accidents (some of them serious or even fatal) or contract occupational diseases because they are exposed to numerous hazards posed by the machines they operate and their work environment. In terms of prevention, actions can be taken at the source, in the work environment, with workers themselves to eliminate the risks, or, when measures cannot be put in place to eliminate or reduce risks at the source, through the workers' use of personal protective equipment. The OHS, scientific, and technological issues studied in this field concern the risks associated with:

  • machines;
  • mechanical risks;
  • noise and vibration;
  • heat stress;
  • excavations;
  • falls from heights, on the same level, and due to slipping.

How are the priority issues put into perspective?

Above all, we use:

  • statistical data;
  • research mapping;
  • scientific monitoring and surveillance;

 and we pay close attention to the needs expressed by workplaces.

Goals

The researchers in this field focus specifically on the assessment and reduction of physical and mechanical risks that could jeopardize worker health and safety, taking into account workers’ interaction with the machines around them and their work environment. The machines may be of the fixed or mobile industrial type or hand power tools. The main physical risks include:

  • noise;
  • hand-arm and whole-body vibration;
  • heat stress.

The mechanical risks include:

  • cuts;
  • lacerations;
  • needle punctures;
  • crushing;
  • contact with machines;
  • falls from heights, on the same level, and due to slipping;
  • trench cave-ins.

Their research efforts involve producing methodological and metrological tools or carrying out simulations, as well as testing and evaluating methods to help those responsible in the workplace diagnose and assess risks more effectively. Efforts also focus on developing support tools for selecting, enhancing, and designing prevention solutions, taking the human factor into account.

Three research orientations have been defined in order to achieve these goals:

  • Assessment of the mechanical and physical risks generated by machines or the work environment;
  • Reduction of mechanical and physical risks;
  • Taking the human factor into account in the evaluation and control of mechanical and physical risks.

Current programs and themes

Assessment of risks associated with machines

The aim of this program is to conduct studies that will provide enterprises with robust, reliable tools for assessing (analyzing and evaluating) the risks associated with machines. This step is prerequisite to identifying appropriate ways of reducing risks.

Lockout

The aims of this program are to enhance understanding of the problems related to lockout, study the components of a lockout program and the conditions conducive to its application, evaluate its application in workplaces, and identify alternatives when the program cannot be applied.  

Hand power tools

The work carried out within this transverse research program, which concerns both noise and vibration, is aimed at developing knowledge of the acoustic and vibratory performances of hand power tools, proposing ways of reducing these vibration and noise levels and disseminating this information so that tool models with lower impact levels can be identified. More specifically, this means identifying the mechanisms whereby tools generate noise and vibrations in work situations, evaluating them on laboratory test benches that simulate working conditions, and clarifying dose-effect relationships for hand-arm vibrations.

Acoustic barriers and noise-control materials

The aim of this program is to develop reliable, user-friendly, transferable methods that can be adopted by workplaces to help reduce worker exposure to noise. This can be achieved by developing tools to support both the design of noise-reduction solutions (for example machine enclosures) and the evaluation of materials’ acoustic performance, while also evaluating and even designing new noise-abatement technologies based on the use of barriers and innovative materials.

Evaluation and modelling of personal hearing protectors

The aim of this program is to explore methods for evaluating the real protection offered by hearing protectors in the workplace and to develop support tools for designing efficient and more comfortable personalized hearing protectors.

Shoring and shielding systems

This program focuses on providing preventionists with tools to help them choose appropriate means of protection against trench cave-ins, taking into account soil type and conditions, as well as water table conditions. It also seeks to support the work of the review committee for the Québec Safety Code for the Construction Industry.

Resistance of protective gloves and clothing to mechanical and physical hazards

The aim of this thematic program is to evaluate the resistance of protective gloves and clothing to mechanical hazards (e.g. cuts, perforation, tears), while also integrating aspects related to human factors (e.g. adherence and dexterity associated with gloves, heat stresses associated with clothing). The work is aimed at developing knowledge of the behaviour of materials with regard to different types of hazards and of the impact of equipment use on physiological functions, motricity, and comfort. This in turn makes it possible to design tools for selecting protective gloves and clothing, develop testing methods, establish equipment selection criteria, and contribute to the development of standards and more efficient products. The program concerning protective gloves and clothing in relation to chemical and biological hazards is managed by the Chemical and Biological Hazard Prevention field.

Protection against falls from heights

The aim of this program is the development and application of test methods for identifying the personal protective equipment (lanyards, safety harnesses, belts, anchor points) and collective protective equipment (guardrails, horizontal lifelines) that are best adapted to different work environments, while taking human factors into account. It also seeks to provide a basis for designing new products and defining selection criteria and to support the development of standards. 

Slips and falls on outdoor surfaces

The aim of this thematic program is to identify design requirements for, and the techniques required to select, boots/footwear offering the best resistance to slips on outdoor surfaces, particularly on ice, snow or surfaces that are wet from winter rain, and for variety of work environments. Aspects related to comfort and those wich may impact on the risk of slipping are also investigated.

Audible alarm signals in the workplace

This thematic program concentrates on communication in noisy environments from the perspective of audible alarm signals. For example, it studies the effect of hearing protectors on various measurements of acoustic perception during the use of alarms (tonal or broadband).

Statistical data: priority issues explained

Based on the 2005–2007 five-year indicators, accidents related to fixed machinery represent 5.3% (4,923) of all accidents involving time-loss injuries annually.

The severity of injuries caused by machine-related accidents and the fact that machines are used in most activity sectors impelled the CNESST to apply a “Sécurité des machines” (machine safety) action plan starting in March 2005. These types of accidents affect mostly manual labourers (85%) and young workers (ages 15 to 24). Young workers post a frequency rate twice as high as that of workers ages 45 and over. The most frequent traumatic injuries involve the hands and fingers, and consist primarily of open wounds, bruises, and fractures. Injuries to the upper extremities represent approximately 20% of all injuries compensated by the CNESST. Between 2006 and 2009, an average of 13 machine-related deaths occurred annually.

Of the other mechanical risks studied in this field, the entrapment of workers in the bottom of trenches due to wall cave-ins causes at least one or two deaths a year, representing 1% of all work-accident fatalities.   

Falls from heights continue to be a major source of work-related injuries (9.8% of work-related injuries compensated in relation to traumatic accidents and 5.6% of all compensated work-related injuries annually) and of deaths on the job (11 of the 68 accident-related deaths accepted in 2011).

The relative numbers of falls on the same level and slips/trips without falling rose from 9.4% to 12.2% of all injuries accepted between 1998 and 2008. For the 2005 to 2007 period, falls on the same level and slips/trips without falling ranked first among the most frequent type of accidents.

Nearly 20% of traumatic accidents result in cuts and lacerations. Most of these accidents affect fingers and hands. Needle punctures and perforations represent 6.2% of all traumatic accidents. Injuries attributable to needles and syringes account for 2% of the traumatic accidents caused by needle punctures and perforations.

Between 2005 and 2008, the number of noise-related injuries rose from 2,211 in 2005 to 3,138 in 2008. Taking into account all costs―direct, indirect, and human―noise ranks first among all causal agents, with an average per-injury cost estimated at $154,406 a year. The average payouts in income replacement indemnities related to hand-arm vibration and whole-body vibration are generally much higher than the average cost of all injuries.

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