1954-1991 Origins

Almost 70 years before the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Institute, Liberty produced a  movie, (silent, of course), called the Outlaw which addressed occupational safety, suggesting that losses arising from accidents stole value from workers and companies.

The Outlaw can be seen here, (quality improves after 35 seconds) and a more modern video; Tales of Innovation here.

Thadde market discrimination aspect first appeared around this time and by 1961 “research” was featuring in newspaper advertisements as a discriminating characteristic of Liberty’s approach to auto insurance.

 

 

 

 

 

 

While it is difficult to capture the early work at the Institute 30, 40 or 50 years ago, for the anniversary, Liberty produced an accessible history of the Research Center:

 Our Story

The Early Years

Since its founding in 1912, Liberty Mutual has demonstrated a stead­fast commitment to workplace safety. The company’s first hired employee, David Beyer (right), was an experienced industrial safety engineer. His accident prevention department offered customers the help of trained safety professionals as part of their insurance coverage – an inno­vative service concept in a time when most companies could not afford their own in-house safety programs. To further improve workplace safety, Beyer produced a safety handbook titled Industrial Accident Prevention. This 400-page text served as the premier guide­book for industrial safety pro­fessionals for more than a decade.

Eager to promote work­place safety to a broader audience, Beyer branched out using the latest tech­nology of the day-motion pictures. Partnering with Paramount Pictures in 1918, he wrote and produced an 18-minute safety film, The Outlaw, which featured safe­ty hazard characters (right).

In 1920, Beyer wrote and produced a more elaborate safety film, The Hand of Fate. Used extensively by Liberty Mutual’s loss prevention rep­resentatives for customer training, more than a quarter million plant managers and employees viewed the two films in the early 1920s.

Throughout the 1920s and 30s, Liberty Mutual aggressively pushed for customer acceptance of safety initia­tives, such as on-site first-aid facilities (right) and em­ployee train­ing in lifesav­ing methods. Behind the scenes, a handful of re­searchers began exploring new ways to reduce injuries on and off the job. From the basement of Liberty Mutual’s home office in Boston, these researchers developed safety innovations, investigated occupational disease con­trol, and made significant contributions to the na­scent health and safety research community.

Among the many notable early achievements were specially designed industrial machine guards to protect factory workers from losing or injuring hands and/or fingers and an emergency escalator shut-off switch to prevent serious injuries which occurred when children’s shoes caught under a moving escalator steps.  These innovations were significant – many of Liberty Mutual’s machine guarding designs eventually became national stan­dards, and the shut-off switch became a code requirement for all escalators in 1960

During the Depression era, Liberty Mutual partnered with the Harvard School of Public Health to investigate the causes and control of occupational diseases. In 1934, Liberty MutuaI added a part-time Harvard faculty mem­ber, Charles Williams, Ph.D. (left) to Liberty Mutual’s Loss Preven­tion group. These early events set the stage for a faculty and teaching exchange between the two institutions that continues to this day.

The initial Harvard collaboration also marked the beginning of Lib­erty Mutual’s long-held tradition of peer-review publication – a practice that exposes research to the highest level of scientific scru­tiny and ensures that findings are available to all who wish to access them. While early publications primarily focused or industrial hygiene issues, such as sampling (right) and noise/radia­tion control: today the publishes findings across a broad base of research areas, including ergonomics, epidemiology, biome­chanics, tribology (slips, trips, and falls), and work systems design.

As Liberty Mutual moved ahead with workplace safety and health initiatives, it also recognized and responded to work issues facing individuals who had been injured or become ill on the job. In 1943, Liberty Mutual opened a medical rehabilitation clinic in Boston (be­low). The facility provided medical staff and resources geared specifically to helping injured workers return to a productive lifestyle. This early milestone foreshadowed later disability research efforts, including field and laboratory in­vestigations into ways to improve safe and sustained return to work.

Liberty Mutual Research Institute Opens

 In 1954, Liberty Mutual opened the Research Institute for safety in Hopkinton MA, to

1954

accommodate its growing research program.  The research facility housed two main laboratories. One was dedicated to investigat­ing industrial accident hazards, such as those associated with in­dustrial machinery use and manual materials handling. The other laboratory fo­cused on indus­trial hygiene re­search and field services for the control of dust, vapors and noise in industrial set­ tings. The staff – included Director of Research, William S. Frederick, M.D., Ph.D. (above), a health physicist, a radiation specialist, three acoustical engineers, and a supervisor of industrial hy­giene field services. The new labo­ratories enabled researchers to expand their investigations into several new research areas, includ­ing automotive safety, ergonomics, and rehabilitation.

While the Research Institute con­ducted its investigative programs, it continued to forge ahead with the development of safety innova­tions, some of which had a major impact on the broader community.  In the early 1950s, Liberty Mutual partnered with Cornell University to develop Survival Cars I (above) and II. These prototype cars helped illustrate to the world how safety features such as collapsible steering columns, arm and head­rests, air bags, and seatbelts could reduce crash-related injuries and save lives. Seventeen of the then-innovative features have since become standard in all U.S. auto­mobiles.

As an added component of its driver safety program, the Hop­kinton site added an outdoor, instrumented driving track in 1959. Researchers used the track to test new vehicle safety devices and to conduct driver safety re­search and training. Today this test area facilitates the in-vehicle train­ing segment of the Liberty Mutual Decision Driving Program the first program of its kind operated by an insurance company. Over the years, thousands of commer­cial vehicle driver trainers have attended the award-winning pro­gram (bottom left, one of the first driver training classes).

In the 1960s, the Research In­stitute worked with the Mass­achusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard Medical School to develop the Boston Elbow Tm (be­low) — the first battery-powered prosthetic elbow to restore func­tion to upper extremity amputees. The Boston Elbow’s myoelectric capabilities captured muscle sig­nals from the skin surface to control the speed and direction of the limb, greatly improving the quality of life for the people who used it. Over the years, Liberty Mutual improved the original de­sign, incorporating new technologies and expanding the Boston Elbow’s capa­bilities. In 2001, Liberty Mutual introduced the Boston Digital Arm, the first micro­computer-based prosthetic elbow on the market.

Research Breakthroughs

Under the leadership of Charles R. Williams, Ph.D. (1961-1964 and Allen Cudworth, Sc.D., (1965-1990, left), Liberty Mutual inves­tigators forged new directions in occupation­al health and. safety.  Then, as it is today, manual materials handling was the leading cause of occupational injury in the United States, comprising approximately 35 percent of all workers com­pensation claims annually. Using data collected from numerous controlled studies of simulated, industrial material handing tasks (below), researchers produced tables of maximum acceptable weights and forces that workers can lift, lower, push, pull, or carry without excessive fatigue. These tables resulted in widely accepted manual-handling task guidelines. These guidelines help practitioners design tasks to decrease the risk of work-related injuries and disabilities.

The data also formed the basis for CompuTaskTM, an ergonomic analysis software tool used today by Liberty Mutual’s loss preven­tion consultants to evaluate manual-handling tasks. Research­ers continue to make software improvements including a module for evaluating upper-extremity re­petitive motion exposures.

Slips, trips, and falls comprise another leading cause of occupational injuries. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has reported more than 250,000 disabling injuries resulting from a work-related slip, trip, or fall each year since 1996. Even before such statistics were available, Liberty Mutual recognized the significance of slips, trips, and falls as an occupational hazard. In 1967, Liberty Mutual researchers developed the first Horizontal OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPull Slipmeter, a portable device that measured the slipperiness of floors and other walkway surfaces. This tool gave safety practitioners and researchers a way to evaluate floor slipperiness and devise prevention strategies. Early slips and falls research included investigations of floor surface test­ing methods and cleaning pro­tocols. Today, research includes tribological studies of the interac­tion between shoes, contaminants, and floor surfaces; biomechanical investigations of human gait, sta­bility, and motion patterns; and cognitive studies of human per­ceptions and decision-making processes. Findings from these studies provide a scientific basis for workplace innovations that can reduce the likelihood of a work-related slip, trip, or fall.

During the 1980s, the Research Institute broke new ground in repetitive stress research. Re­searchers began a series of con­trolled experiments in which sub­jects performed simulated light assembly work, manual screw-driving, and knife-cutting tasks. The data from these experiments helped to establish the maximum acceptable forces for repetitive wrist motion with different wrist postures and grips (below).

These studies also inspired the later development of the Muscu­loskeletal Stress Measurement Kit. Patented in 1994, the kit allows users to accurately evaluate repetitive-motion hand tool exposures. Instrumented knives, pliers, and screwdrivers transmit infor­mation to a special computer that plots the torque output exerted by a worker. Researchers and practi­tioners use the instrumented tools to gather data for analysis with CompuTask software to reduce upper extremity injuries.

The 1990s —A Decade of Change and Outreach

 In the early 1990s, under the lead­ership of Tom B. Leamon, Ph.D., C.P.E., (1991-present, right), the Research Institute ex­panded its lab­oratory space from 26,000 to 40,000 square    feet,1993 and in­creased its re­search staff to include 12 doctoral-level scien­tists. These changes brought the Institute to a new level of scien­tific productivity and visibility.

Over the next decade, the num­ber of annual, peer-reviewed publications more than doubled, and the Institute increased its presence at high-profile scientific conferences. The scope of research expanded to include epidemiologi­cal studies of the causes and distri­bution of workplace injuries, bio-mechanical analyses of human motion patterns, and investigations of the physical, technological, and organizational demands of work environments.

During this time, the Research Institute established research alli­ances with prominent universities and health and safety institutions around the world. In 1994, the In­stitute formalized its long-term collaborative relationship with the Harvard School of Public Health ( through the creation of the Liberty Mutual Program in Occupational Safety and Health (above, from left to right, are Dr. Joseph Brain, HSPH; Karl Jacobson, Liberty Mutual; Dr. Harvey Fineberg, HSPH; and Dr. Tom Leamon, Research Insti­tute). The Program, created to ad­vance occupational safety and health, built upon the longstand­ing teaching exchange between the two organizations and includes joint-research projects, symposia, and global initiatives.

Also in 1994 the Institute initiated the Visiting Scholar Program to encourage collaboration with other prominent universities. Each year, the Institute selects a senior research scientist to spend three months at the Hopkinton facility collaborating on an area of mutual interest. Since its incep­tion, the Program has hosted 11 senior researchers from eight different countries.  The Program requires one, joint peer-reviewed publication and fosters the development of extended relationships with the visiting scholars’ home institutions. The goal is to facilitate ongoing re­search collaborations resulting in scientific publications.

Other global partnerships that emerged during the 1990s include the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, the British Health and Safety Laboratory, the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

As the Institute vastly expanded its outreach and publication out­put, it continued to produce in­novations to enhance safety re­search and practice. In 1997, researchers pat­ented the Whole-Body Vibration Meter (left), a portable device – used to measure worker exposure to vibration dur­ing heavy vehicle operation as well as other indus­trial tasks. The meter enables service providers to collect multi-axis vibration measurements and compare this data to nationally accepted standards.

In 1998, Institute researchers de­veloped the first field measure­ment system of its kind to analyze the entire profile of a lifting task from start to finish. The system, called VidLiTeCTm (below), accurately determines forces on various joints of the body (including the lower back) during lift that could lead to overexertion.  VidLiTeC requires only a video the worker performing the lift analyze the task and pinpoint areas of increased risk. The system enables safety practitioners to collect valuable information without interfering with normal business operations.

The Turn of the Millennium and Beyond

In 1999, the Research Institute restructured to form the Center for Safety Research and the Center for Disability Research, separate but highly coordinated entities.  While the Center for Safety Resarch maintained Liberty’s strong focus on causes and prevention of occupational accidents and injuries the Center for Disability Research investigates the best ways to promote successful return-to-wok outcomes when occupational injuries occur.

The same year, the Institute formed a research partnership with Fudan University— one of China’s premier medical universities. Through joint research, the col­laboration seeks to increase the understanding of occupational in­jury in China. This was the first of many collaborative efforts in  China, including joint research with Tsinghua University’s re­nowned Industrial Engineering Department and co-sponsorship of an annual China SafeWork Forum with China’s State Administration of Work Safety (SAWS). PIC00016s(Dr. Tom Leamon and Mr. Shan Chungchang, deputy director gen­eral of SAWS, during a visit to the Research Institute, above). Each year, hundreds of Chinese busi­ness, government, and academic leaders attend the SafeWork Forum to discuss work safety and occupational health and promote improvement of work safety man­agement methods in China.

In 2001, the Research Institute formed the Quantitative Analysis Unit (QAU) to conduct original studies in occupational injury epi­demiology, develop promising design and analysis methods, and to serve as a statistical resource partner to the two Centers. In addition to other workforce injury and field studies, the QAU pro­duces the annual Liberty Mutual Workplace Safety Index, a ranking of the leading causes of disabling occupational injuries and illnesses in the United States. The first re­port of its kind, the Index provides a valuable resource to researchers, employers, and others dedicated to workplace safety, enabling them to identify the leading injury causes and direct costs.

The Research Institute broke ground for a major reconstruction and addition in 2002. cropped-lmris.jpgThe new 91,000-square-foot facility, com­prised of two separate buildings, was constructed to better house occupational safety and disability research programs and staff, as well as to better accommodate visiting scientists. An 1,800-square-foot biomechanics/motion analysis laboratory (below), a re­located and revamped upper extremity laboratory, and a centralized, computerized telephonic data collection system were among the research capability enhance­ments. Officially dedicated in the spring of 2004 (above), the recon­struction also included a new, state-of-the art industrial hygiene laboratory and a training facility for Liberty Mutual’s senior loss prevention consultants and per­sonal, homeowner, and auto­mobile insurance claims adjusters.

Today, Institute researchers main­tain collaborative ties in a dozen countries throughout the world and are establishing new research partnerships in Vietnam. Utilizing their expanded environment to its fullest potential, Research Insti­tute scientists remain dedicated to helping prevent injuries, illnesses, and disabilities in the workplace, at home, and on the road.

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