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Multimedia Information on Back Injury Prevention



Skilful composition of photographs and the extensive use of graphics and animation, help to clarify visual information and amke ISPINE relevant and accessible to a wide audience.
ISPINE explains how the back works, and identifies the risks of injury in the workplace, as well as providing advice on the provision and handling of tools, equipment and furniture, and the design of the working environment.

The package also helps sufferers to identify potential causes of back pain, and shows workers and employers how to evaluate (and eliminate) risks in their own workplace.

Spinal injuries and back pain are among the leading causes of lost productivity in every country in Europe, causing untold pain and hardship to sufferers, and costing millions to governments and employers in healthcare, benefits and compensation - yet the cost of prevention is negligible. ISPINE offers workers and employers practical information and advice which may help them to improve behaviour, efficiency and safety in the workplace.

Irish Medical Systems (IMS) is producing the disc. SRS Systems is primarily responsible for the script, and the Work Research Centre Copenhagen for co-ordinating consultancy from leading experts in orthopaedics, anatomy, biomechanics, physiotherapy and ergonomics. Members of the Irish Society of Chartered Physiotherapists have also been working with IMS throughout the project.


ISPINE explains how simple procedures - such as the correct handling of tools and equipment, proper techniques for repetitive or heavy lifting, and attention to the ergonomic design of the workplace - can greatly reduce the risk of strain and injury to the back. Background data include information on legislation, and sources of further advice, help and information. Sufferers can also learn about a wide range of conventional and alternative therapies.

Three voices, including that of a consultant, provide some 40 minutes of varied audio commentary. Optional subtitles make the programme accessible to viewers who may be hard of hearing or less than fluent in the spoken language.

Back injury can, of course, affect anyone, regardless of age, gender, vocation or nationality. ISPINE's designers consciously sought to render as much information as possible in forms which project manager S‚an Breen describes as 'neutral' or 'androgynous'. The programme is being developed in English, although discussions-were underway from an early stage for other language versions. The culturally-unspecific style of the visual material, and the structure of the audio-visual presentation, means that the programme could be adapted for many other national markets.


An interactive exercise asks users to identify and eliminate risks in typical scenes of working life. The package offers access to information at four levels, from the Preview which provides an introduction or executive summary, to the Tools which allow users to assess the potential risks in their own working environment.

Breen estimates that any one user could cover the basics in about 40 minutes, but perceives the real value of the interactive multimedia system in long-term use, as a resource for on-the-job training, reference and planning. The Tools, particularly, offer a wide range of facilities which can be used to audit health and safety risks, and identify effective strategies for minimizing stress and danger. These Tools are equally accessible to individuals seeking to improve their own working practices, and organizations with a broader mission for the workplace as a whole.


This is one project distinguished by clear-sighted analysis of the many factors which must inevitably influence the reception of the package in its target markets. From research into health and safety products and awareness campaigns, the developers soon confirmed that, despite the raft of linear video and print materials now available, the impact of this information has been abysmally low. Breen reports that, in monitored campaigns, as little as 7% of the material aimed at target markets makes an impression on the right person.

This consortium is convinced that the considerable functionality of interactive multimedia - as well as, initially at least, its novelty and audio-visual appeal - will have a more substantial effect. However, the developers are also conscious that any audio-visual presentation can be dated by both style and content. Breen estimates that, despite the stability of the basic information, the combination of gradual change in style and legislation, and the rapid pace of technological innovation, probably gives this package a shelf-life of some five years. However, the developers are committed to updating the product and releasing new versions as the market demands.


ISPINE is designed for use in corporate, commercial, industrial and professional sectors, including healthcare centres and libraries as well as training centres and work sites. However, the consortium is also keenly aware that, even where the risk to workers is equally high, some sectors are more likely to adopt a new multimedia product than others. "We've got to go for the largest markets first - and the most lucrative," Breen says.

The critical point of intersection lies where the need for information and training is matched by a solid infrastructure and the widespread use of information technology. In healthcare, for example, training is valued for workers at virtually all levels, most people are represented by professional associations or unions which strive to improve working conditions, and computers are commonplace.

Breen reports that the project has attracted interest from publishers whose lists include books and journals on health and safety, but who are entirely new to multimedia. Given the rising awareness of the health risks now associated with long hours at the computer, the disc could also profitably be bundled with hardware of many kinds.

The consortium also has a long-term pricing strategy: Breen estimates that the package will be launched at a price in the region of 200 ECU, but hopes to see that halved, and eventually halved again, so that companies which already have delivery systems could hardly afford not to buy it.




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