TU Graz honored employees and students with awards for gender and diversity. This year, Dr. Matthias Wolf was honored with this "Mind the Gap" Award for his dissertation "Counteracting demographic challenges in industrial blue collar work".
Demographic change and challenges in industry
Demographic change is leading to an aging of the working population, which has a significantly higher share of work incapacity days due to illness. While the number of days of incapacity to work due to various illnesses remains relatively constant over the ageing population, the number of days of incapacity to work due to musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) is increasing disproportionately. Musculoskeletal disorders are particularly prevalent where workers perform physically demanding tasks, as is common above all in physical industrial work. For employees in these jobs, the number of days of sick leave due to MSDs increases on average by up to 11 times with age, thus causing high costs for companies and the Austrian state. In 2017, the resulting costs of this group of illnesses at the state level were estimated at around €7.5 billion (about 2% of GDP), which corresponds to an average cost of €4,323 per day of sick leave.
Research Award for Gender and Diversity of TU Graz
Annually, TU Graz announces "Mind the Gap" awards to promote a culture of diversity and appreciation. This award honors teams or individuals in the categories "Scientific Theses", "Research Project", "Conference Contribution, Lecture, Publication" as well as "Dissertations" and "Teaching". The expert jury assessed how profoundly the projects dealt with gender and diversity aspects such as age, gender, origin or educational background. The five entries awarded prizes in 2020 deal, for example, with the (in)equality of opportunities for young women studying computer science; an educational app to get girls interested in programming; and the involvement of people with different ages, occupations and educational backgrounds in research projects on the apple microbiome. But global distributive justice based on electronics supply chains or the question of how to keep older workers working longer and more efficiently in Industry 4.0 were also explored. A total of five "Mind the Gap" prizes were awarded in 2020. The only dissertation prize this year was awarded to Dr. Matthias Wolf of the IIM for his dissertation "Counteracting demographic challenges in industrial blue collar work".
Exoskeletons to maintain the health of industrial workers in old age
In his dissertation, Dr. Matthias Wolf dealt with the design of physical work for workers who, on average, are getting older and older. Especially in physically demanding work, complaints such as musculoskeletal disorders occur more frequently with age. The dissertation showed that people's ability to work can be maintained longer and more productively if the challenges for and demands of older workers are empirically surveyed and taken into account at an early stage. In particular, physically supportive assistance systems, such as exoskeletons, are of high importance in this context, as shown by the empirical surveys conducted in industry. The field tests in industry and commerce showed that such systems can lead to a significant reduction of physical strain during various activities and can thus make a significant contribution to the reduction of physical strain and the development of MSDs, especially for older employees.
Dissertation (Mechanical Engineering) „Counteracting demographic challenges in industrial blue collar work“ online.tugraz.at/tug_online/wbAbs.showThesis