21, 2002, Gazette)
Photo by Deborah
Scott MacKinnons research examines how
the musculo-skeletal system functions under load.
The School of Human Kinetics and Recreation recently welcomed the latest
member to its team. Scott MacKinnon, an ergonomist, is its newest assistant
professor. Mr. MacKinnons research primarily examines how the musculo-skeletal
system functions under load and to better understand work efficiency and
injury mechanisms. For Mr. MacKinnon the opportunity to work at Memorial
represented a chance to have an impact on the schools new focus
on kinesiology and to shift perceptions about the science of ergonomics.
The International Ergonomics Association defines ergonomics as the scientific
discipline concerned with the fundamental understanding of interactions
among humans and other elements of a system, and the profession that applies
theory, principles, data and methods to design in order to optimize human
well-being and overall system performance.
Ergonomics in its early stages was basically about looking at work-related
injuries. It looked at the micro-ergonomics aspects, focussing on the
worker and the task at hand, said Mr. MacKinnon. There are
obviously benefits associated with changing workstations and making recommendations
for improved task design in order to reduce injury.
Over the last 10 years, ergonomics has become more of an applied
discipline and has brought a lot of stakeholders together, such as industrial
psychologists, management, the accounting aspects of business and, of
course, engineering. When you look at how multi-disciplinary it is, really
we should be practicing ergonomics more from a macro-ergonomic or socio-technical
perspective. People from the human kinetics and kinesiology fields tended
to naturally migrate towards ergonomics. What they learned in the areas
of biomechanics, work physiology and sports psychology, where you try
to maximize performance, also lent itself to work settings where you try
to optimize performance.
Mr. MacKinnon cites Steve Caseys book, Set Phasers on Stun,
which documents how poor workstation design contributed to global disasters
including the sinking of Exxon Valdez and the explosion at the Bhopal
gas plant. Ergonomics has many implications for business on the production
side from the quality of a product to customer and job satisfaction.
Ergonomists look at questions like: can we make something work more
efficiently? Some people think ergonomists want to eliminate jobs
to mechanize everything. But thats not our goal; we want to help
employ people in happy safe environments.
Before he arrived at Memorial in December, Mr. MacKinnon had been working
for over six years at Rhodes University in South Africa. During that time
he was working towards his PhD in biomedical engineering with an emphasis
in ergonomics at the University of Cape Town and is awaiting news of the
outcome of his dissertation. Prior to South Africa, he completed his M.Sc.
in biomechanics at Dalhousie University and spent the last seven years
at Dalhousie, Saint Marys and Mount St. Vincents Universities
primarily in the School of Physiotherapy at Dalhousie.
My research in the past several years has focused on heavy materials
handling and measures of biomechanical, physiological and psychophysical
responses to work. Much of this has been laboratory-based and under well-controlled
circumstances, necessary to answer hypothesis-based research questions,
Mr. MacKinnon hopes to broaden his research capabilities by working with
his colleagues in Kinetics but also in Engineering and Business and to
secure resources to establish a mobile lab capable of collecting kinematics
(motion), kinetics (forces) and electromyography (electrical activity
of muscles) data.
I hope to work in-situ so I can go where real workers
are doing real work and compare this to laboratory-based benchmark data
all this to see if one can suggest ergonomic intervention programs
that improve productivity and decrease the risk of injury, said
It would seem he has a heavy workload ahead.