Changing the rules of the game

When it comes to managing exposure to risk, heavy engineering and rugby have more in common than you might think.

Retirement is meant to be a cause for celebration; an opportunity to spend more time with friends and family; the chance to travel more, do more, and enjoy life uninterrupted by the burdens and obligations of traditional work. The reality for those who have spent their lives exposed to dangerous levels of shock and vibration – like that caused by repeated collisions or lifelong use of vibrational tools and equipment – is that retirement might only be the beginning of their battle to combat long-term effects caused by ‘hidden’ or ‘silent’ threats to their professions.

Hiding in plain sight

Among rugby players, concussions are known as ‘the hidden epidemic.’ This is because a large number of concussions go unreported, and also because the dangers associated with repeated injuries of this nature aren’t fully realised until the end of an athlete’s career, as symptoms may be mild or nonexistent during competition, resulting in continued, largely unmitigated exposure to dangerous collisions. Similarly, among workers in heavy engineering, Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS) is regarded as a ‘hidden’ threat and is a widespread, under-appreciated problem that may not impact a worker’s quality of life until after they’ve left the workforce. As with concussions, the symptoms of HAVS can go undetected or remain fairly benign for years, resulting in continued exposure to hazardous conditions, ultimately worsening the problem to a debilitating degree.

“The lasting effects of conditions like HAVS and other musculoskeletal and degenerative diseases aren’t known or fully appreciated while they’re developing, and that’s exactly why it’s crucial to take a proactive, preventative approach to these hidden threats.”

It’s only recently that the professional sports world has come to better appreciate the effects of shock and vibration among athletes. While we may not think of a concussion as being caused by factors similar to those that cause HAVS, CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy), a medical condition believed to be caused or triggered by repeated concussions, has also been attributed to prolonged exposure to factors like speed or vibration, even where no collision occurs. Notably, Rugby – as an international network of professional sports organisations – has been unable to effectively combat the risks associated with exposure to repeated collisions, introducing concussion ‘protocols’ that have largely been regarded as unsuccessful and difficult to manage.

In both rugby and heavy engineering, exposure to risk from shock and vibration persists without adequate mitigation. Workplace culture in both sport and environments like construction sites are not conducive to athletes or workers stepping away from their tasks to proactively diminish their chance of long-term injury. Moreover, individuals across such industries may find so-called solutions to these problems inconvenient or simply unimportant. This attitude is particularly likely to prevail when the lasting effects of conditions like HAVS and other musculoskeletal, degenerative diseases aren’t known or fully appreciated while they’re developing. This lack of awareness is exactly why it’s crucial to take a proactive, preventative approach to these hidden threats.

The Game Plan: Hidden Threats Require a Proactive Strategy.

The reality of the heavy engineering workplace, not unlike a rugby pitch, is that any controls put in place to actually, meaningfully remedy a worker’s exposure to risk from vibration, cannot be strictly retrospective in nature. “Protocols” designed to address injuries and exposure after they’ve happened are simply inadequate to address the risks posed by these workplace threats.

A proactive, preventative approach to controlling exposure to risk from shock or vibration must exist, in the very first instance, in order to have any chance of being effective. 

Concussion protocols in rugby aren’t as effective at preventing damage caused by collisions as changing the rules of the game would be, because protocols don’t prevent collisions. Less opportunity for dangerous contact, however, does.

Similarly, in heavy engineering workplaces, no amount of record-keeping will prevent workers from exposure to vibration from tools or equipment. Tool and task rotations, real-time exposure alerts and more effective workplace controls, will. Said simply: to win the battle against HAV, you have to change the rules of the game.

A Human Approach to Workplace Rules.

Changing the rules for how we address workplace health – and taking the conversation from a damage control-focused dialogue to a preventative approach – requires adaptation, innovation and an attitude adjustment. Heavy engineering workers – similar to athletes on a team- are a human workforce. As such, they have an incredible capacity to adapt and adjust. A tool like HAVWEAR is about more than monitoring exposure to HAV; it’s about getting in control so that you can work to keep your workers safe and healthy.

“Innovation is here, and it’s now: HAVWEAR identifies risk from exposure, in real-time, and Reactec Analytics tell you exactly where attention is needed so that you can refine your controls, reduce your risk, and protect your workforce. Now, and for the future.”

In the same way that rugby is considering changing the rules of the game to reduce the risk of dangerous contact, heavy engineering must change the rules of its own game so that keeping workers safe is automatic, not an afterthought. Doing that will require innovation, but that shift is anything but aspirational: the innovation is here, and it’s now. 

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