How can smart clothing improve the occupational wellbeing of car mechanics at K-Caara?

Mechanics at garages perform heavy physical work in various positions, so they must be physically fit and take care of their health. In early 2018, a pilot was conducted at three K-Caara locations to study the most physically demanding work postures and stages of mechanics’ work using smart clothing. The smart clothing, which uses electromyography (EMG), an electrodiagnostic technique to measure muscular activity, generated data on the physical loading experienced by mechanics, which has a huge impact on their occupational wellbeing.

The aim was to use the data collected with various measurements to find targeted methods of controlling physical loading and to help maintain and improve the mechanics’ working capacity and wellbeing.

“Car mechanics need special expertise, but they also need to be physically fit and strong. Ergonomic work positions and taking care of wellbeing at work and outside it are key to maintaining working capacity. We want to encourage all our employees to keep this in mind and, in particular, we want to support activities that promote wellbeing,” says Benita Björklund, HR Manager at K-Auto.

The pilot aimed to obtain the most accurate data possible using the latest technology. The physical loading of work was studied with smart clothing that measures muscular activity with EMG technology. In addition, the clothing tracked the employees’ work postures and heart rate and measured muscle engagement in their upper arms and back. The work tasks studied involved basic servicing and painting of cars and engine repairs. In addition to measuring the loading in work stages and postures, the smart clothing generated data on micro breaks and recovery. During the measurements, the mechanics wore either a smart shirt or smart shorts, or both, with motion sensors to measure repetitive movements and elevated positions as well as separate sensors to measure the muscular loading. A total of ten mechanics from three different K-Caara locations participated in the pilot.

Data generated with smart clothing helps us focus on the right matters to promote occupational wellbeing
There were several work stages where the mechanic’s entire body was subjected to loading, such as loading in various postures, manual lifting, and moving of objects. The average amount of strength used was moderate and in line with recommendations, but in many work stages, the heart rate easily reached a level consistent with a sports performance for a prolonged period of time. Excessive or the wrong kind of loading can cause back fatigue, muscle tension and reduce mobility.

Fortunately, all forms of loading can be adjusted with the correct work postures and other measures that improve working capacity. Mechanics can significantly alleviate musculoskeletal loading by interrupting a task or taking a short break and changing work posture. Sufficient sleep and ensuring sufficient flexibility and muscle fitness are all essential. We have worked together with occupational physiotherapists to prepare some comprehensive tips and guidelines for our garage personnel on postures that reduce loading and on restorative exercises and stretches.

“Smart clothing supports data-driven management. The results will have an impact on the management of work at garages and help us pay more attention to work schedules and to support job rotation as much as we can. It’s great that modern technology can be harnessed to support our employees’ wellbeing and ergonomics,” says Björklund.

The pilot shows that smart clothing is a viable tool for promoting the occupational wellbeing of mechanics and very helpful for assessing the physical load caused by work, in developing better working habits and instructing the personnel on how to adopt these habits.

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