Assessing workplace injuries

A new approach to reducing workplace injuries

Cognitive psychology combined with human factors research impacting the workplace
September 14, 2017

When people think of the oil and gas industry, typically public health is not the first thing that comes to their minds. However, this is an extremely important domain for public health researchers as S. Camille Peres, PhD, an assistant professor in the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health has discovered.

Peres is trained as a cognitive psychologist and began her work with the oil and gas industry by investigating how highly graphical software might present more risks for repetitive strain injuries, particularly for geoscientists, than typical software. This has led to the development of a self-report ergonomic assessment tool (SEAT), which is designed as a quick and easy-to-use method of determining how much stress computer programs put on their users.

“Workplace injuries don’t only happen to employees doing manual labor,” Peres said. “People with desk jobs can develop debilitating hand and wrist problems, poorly designed software may be contributing to this.”

This initial work Peres did with oil and gas was primarily related to office ergonomics and human computer interaction. However, after coming to the Texas A&M School of Public Health, her work began to focus more on the interaction of the workers with the systems, technology, and tools in the field. With funding from various industry partners such as ATR®, NASA, various oil and gas companies as well as the National Science Foundation, Peres is working with Texas A&M scientists from chemical and systems engineering, psychology and the fire school on multiple research projects.

One current research project includes effective designs of technology for emergency operations centers.

“By working with real responders in true-to-life emergency scenarios, the research team’s findings should be highly applicable to real-world situations,” Peres said. “The project will also serve as a proof of concept for human-team interaction and team-machine interaction, and their findings provide the first step to better understand how people, teams and technologies interact in high-stakes and time-sensitive situations.”

Research findings will have applications beyond emergency response and contribute to knowledge in fields like social and organizational psychology and systems engineering.

Other current research projects involve the designing of procedural systems, the measurement of fatigue and situation awareness for drillers, and human factors research for offshore oil and gas operations.

Her work is primarily focused on preventing incidents that can cause enormous business, environmental, and safety consequences. However, public health researchers are also applying their knowledge to effective response to these events both for safety and environmental recovery.

“These efforts need to be well coordinated and it is conceivable that those who are designing the prevention strategies should be working with those who are designing the response strategies,” Peres said. “Everyone deserves a safe workplace, and this approach is key to better ensuring just that.”

— Rae Lynn Mitchell

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