Background and Achievements
Since 1998, EPRI Occupational Safety and Health Program 62 has sponsored more than $3 million of physical ergonomics research. Prof. Marklin and staff have written seven Ergonomics Handbooks for the Electric Power Industry, with each handbook focusing on a specific category of field workers, including workers who work on overhead lines, underground cables, in manholes and vaults, and in fossil-fueled power plants. The most recent handbook focused on the design of utility fleet vehicles and presented utilities with specific recommendations for optimal design in 12 different areas, such as the cab, truck bed, design of the aerial bucket, ingress/egress from an aerial bucket, warning labels, etc.
The current EPRI project, which focuses on the safety and occupational health aspects of electric utility workers using augmented reality (AR), is supported by Program 62 and EPRI Program 161, Information and Communication Technology. This project, which started September 2017 and will end August 2019, will test how the Microsoft HoloLens and the HMT AR systems affect three categories of utility workers: operators in coal-fired power plants who inspect equipment; workers who locate underground cables and excavate; and substation workers who do switching tasks. Results will be available in 2019.
Challenges to be Addressed by AR
To date, no thorough studies have been conducted to determine the safety and occupational health effects of AR systems worn by electric utility workers. Four categories of measurements will be collected and analyzed: electromyography (EMG) of the neck and upper back muscles to assess the effect of the additional weight of AR systems on muscle fatigue and neck soreness; blink rate and pupil diameter of the eye to assess eye strain; situational awareness variables to assess how AR systems affect a worker’s ability and safety to do activities of daily work, such as walking up/down stairs and climbing/descending ladders; and task performance, such as time to complete task and accuracy and quality of work.
Why AR is a Strategic Area
EPRI’s approach is to research is not only to address the current research needs of electric utilities, but also to foresee technologies that may affect electric utility work in the future. AR is a salient example of new technology that will affect a broad swath of workers, including utility workers. EPRI sponsored the current research project to assess how AR affects the safety and occupational health of utility workers before AR is implemented for utility workers. With this proactive approach, results from the current AR project can be used to inform the design and development of AR systems for field workers, and specifically utility workers, to maximize worker safety and occupational health.