by Ann Backus –
In my last article (CFN November 2012), I described an industrial design class at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) in which students were asked to innovate gear for the lobster industry that would be both serviceable and reduce the risk of injury. This process, called “prevention through design” in the industrial hygiene field, involves consideration of how the body moves and how it interacts with tools, clothes, and other elements in the environment.
Early in the academic term, instructor Thomas J. Weis from Rockland, ME divided the class into four groups: “wearables,” tools, accessories, and workstation.
In the wearables group, the students discussed the disadvantages of the current yellow oilskins that most lobstermen wear, noting that the shoulder straps of the overalls bear all the weight, the material is bulky at the waist and ankles, and the bib front gets a lot of wear and tear. The hood of the rain jacket, they noticed, reduced deckhands’ ability to see to the side when the head was turned. Furthermore, in cold weather, lobstermen often had to wear a cap under the hood.
This team designed three different wearable items. The first was a one-piece suit, the overalls of which were made of thermoplastic polyolefin (TPO) coated polypropylene with an attached Polartek™ fleece shirt. Both of these materials allowed the suit to fit close to the body. Velcro™ straps at the ankles provided a snug fit, and optional closed-cell padding was available to insert into pockets on the thigh to cushion contact with the trap.
The second was a bibbed pant built for durability, comfort, and longevity with a reinforced leather-like vinyl chest piece. The pants were lightweight and water-resistant with waterproof zippers. Zippers were added at the ankle to reduce bulk. The optional thigh padding was made of the same dense plastic material used in ice hockey suits.
The third wearable was a lightweight hat made of a new material called “eVent™” that lets sweat through and never becomes wet. This hat cleverly snaps on to the inside of a Grundens™ hood and stays in place. The Grundens™ hood was redesigned with clear plastic panels to permit easy viewing when the head is turned and, when the lightweight hat was properly snapped inside the hood, the hood movement was controlled, allowing improved peripheral vision. The students also designed a summer version with snap-on flaps to protect the back of the neck from sunburn.
These three wearables clearly addressed some of the downside issues of oilskins and were attractive and very well made.
The two students in the “tool” group worked on knives and banders, items I had the chance to try out. I preferred a “hollow” knife design, which allowed me to put my hand through the open handle and grip it tightly. The design seemed to reduce the chances that the knife would fly out of my hand if I had to forcefully cut myself free from a rope entanglement.
The bander featured an angled design that reduced wrist “flexion,” the bending down of the wrist, when picking up a band.
Additionally, the handle was slightly longer than normal so that the little finger could be put to use, thus distributing the force of the squeeze across the whole hand. A comfortable covering on the handles eliminated the bite of the current bander’s metal edge against the hand.
One of the two students in the “accessories” group designed a ridged plastic strap for the thigh to help stabilize the trap against the thigh when lifting and carrying traps.
This thigh pad accessory was accompanied by a demonstration of proper lifting technique, which involves keeping the trap close to the body and using the knees, not the back.
The other student designed gloves that featured padded fingers inside and a reinforced leather pad outside in the thumb-palm area. A slight indentation in the palm padding cushioned the handle of the bander. These were great improvements, but probably not practical for various reasons.
Finally, the three-student workstation group presented some “way-out” designs. One was an upright banding board with multiple built-in mechanical banders that allowed bands to be preloaded onto the board. During banding, the lobster claw would be inserted into a mechanical device that opened to expand the band and closed when the claw was removed.
I appreciated how the student was concerned about painful repetitive motion injuries to the wrist that so many lobstermen experience.
Another student designed a “quick-on, quick off” set of wheels to be installed between the openings in the trap, enabling a lobsterman to roll his traps to reduce the risk of back injury.
The third student, who noticed that lobstermen are always leaning on the rail or the bait box for stability, designed a C-shaped, padded support that slid onto the bait box. When standing in the “C” at the bait box, the lobsterman is surrounded at the front by a padded “hug.” If the lobstermen turns around, he can rest his elbows on the ears of the “C” and get a relaxing back rub from the padded form.
Throughout this delightful design exposition afternoon, the students demonstrated how they researched, designed, and redesigned until they had a viable product. It was a pleasure to see how carefully they sketched and built these items. Now, we’ll see if anyone is interested in manufacturing any of them for the industry.
Ann Backus, MS, is the director of outreach for the Harvard School of Public Health’s Department of Environmental Health in Boston, MA. She may be reached by phone at (617) 432-3327 or by e-mail at Ann Backus <firstname.lastname@example.org>.