"Both from the perspective of low back injuries as well as some of the upper extremity injuries you've heard about; carpal tunnel, tendonitis, things like that," Dr. Gary Mirka said.
Mirka and his students are designing tools to reduce injuries in the furniture manufacturing and construction industries. In many cases, they can modify an existing tool, such as a nail gun, with a handle so you do not stoop over to use it. Or, they can modify a hand sander with a Velcro mitt. But sometimes, they have to start from scratch.
"In some cases, those tools don't exist, so we have to go through the process of development," graduate student David Brandenburg said.
Of course, what works in the lab is not always going to work at work. Students test each tool on the assembly line. Sometimes employees like the idea, sometimes they do not. When that happens, it is back to the drawing board.
The project is in its third year. Each tool is tested for about two months. After five years, Mirka hopes to see which tools have helped reduce workplace injuries without affecting productivity.