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Motion model

New equipment used to make working environments safer

Dr. Scott MacKinnon is part of a research team at Memorial studying the effects of motion induced fatigue and interruptions for those working in areas such as the offshore industry. The goal is to make working in these harsh environments safer. Memorial recently purchased a new motion simulator as part of the team’s research.

By Jeff Green

A new $100,000 motion simulator – housed in the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science – is giving Memorial researchers a better understanding of how to make working in harsh environments safer, marrying industrial needs with applied research.

The high-tech gear, which includes a small platform with steel rails mounted on a movable base, simulates potentially dangerous work environments such as offshore oil rigs, ships and airplane decks.

It was recently purchased thanks to funding from the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA)’s Atlantic Innovation Fund.

It will be used by researchers across the university and is currently being put to the test by a group studying the effects of motion induced interruptions and motion induced fatigue.

This summer, subjects will be strapped into a safety harness while standing on the moveable platform. From there, researchers will have an opportunity to examine their ability to maintain postural stability and study the cumulative effects of fatigue.

“It is difficult to replicate the motions observed in the North Atlantic – but we can come close to some of these with the equipment we have acquired at the university,” said Dr. Scott MacKinnon, an associate professor in the School of Human Kinetics and Recreation (HKR) with a cross appointment in Engineering. He’s also the co-director of SafetyNet and one of the main researchers working on the project.

“Many operations, mental and physical, can be affected by the quantity and nature of the moving environment. The more we know about it, the more we can develop safer process systems.”

Dr. MacKinnon is part of an interdisciplinary team – which also includes researchers from the Marine Institute, Engineering, HKR and the National Research Council – who are looking at how the body reacts to motion induced interruptions and exhaustion while working in motion-rich environments.
Motion induced interruptions are interferences to the workday due to violent or sudden motions – common in workplaces such as the offshore – which force employees to re-gain their balance.

These same people often deal with motion induced fatigue, as well, said Dr. MacKinnon.

“We know that fatigue can be increased by two means with respect to motion – the direct effects are the added costs of fighting the motions under foot – the added energy to maintain balance over what is needed to do the task, say compared to the same task on land,” he noted.

“Furthermore, sleep patterns and the quality of sleep are affected while living in moving environments. You wake up more often – often jostled awake – and shift patterns at sea and on oil rigs are typically described as horrible – so normal sleep patterns are affected – all this creates a cumulative affect which is called motion induced fatigue.”

Memorial is a trailblazer in this type of research, Dr. MacKinnon noted. He said his group hopes to make safety and survival recommendations for those working in hazardous jobs.

He said ultimately the group would like to develop a motion induced interruption alert system.

“The empirical research we can do in a laboratory environment can be used to assess real-time motions at sea,” he noted. “An expert system can be developed to advise workers when conditions are becoming less stable thus creating an increased risk for accident of injury.

“Innovation is a great catalyst,” added Dr. MacKinnon, “but our goal is to make working in harsh environments as safe as working in your office or at home.”