Identification of Biomechanical Risk Factors for the Development of Lower-Back Disorders during Manual Rebar Tying

Waleed Umer, Heng Li, Grace Pui Yuk Szeto, Arnold Yu Lok Wong

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

71 Citations (Scopus)


High prevalence of musculoskeletal disorders among construction workers pose challenges to the productivity and occupational health of the construction industry. To mitigate the risk of musculoskeletal disorders, construction managers need to deepen their understanding of the physical and biomechanical demands of various construction tasks so that appropriate policies and preventive measures can be implemented. Among various construction trades, rebar workers are highly susceptible to lower-back disorders (LBDs) given the physically demanding nature of their work tasks. In particular, rebar tying is considered to be closely related to LBDs because it exposes workers to multiple ergonomic risk factors (repetitive works in prolonged static and awkward postures). The objective of the current study was to compare the differences in lumbar biomechanics during three typical rebar tying postures: stooping, one-legged kneeling, and squatting. Biomechanical variables including trunk muscle activity and trunk kinematics were measured by surface electromyography and motion sensors, respectively. Ten healthy male participants performed a simulated rebar tying task in each of the three postures in a laboratory setting. Repeated measures analysis of variance showed that while each posture has its unique trunk kinematic characteristics, all these postures involved excessive trunk inclination that exceeded the internationally recommended trunk inclination angle of 60° for static working postures. Of the three postures, stooping posture demonstrated a significant reduction in electromyographic activity of lumbar muscles (a reduction in 60-80% of muscle activity as compared to the other two postures). The reduced muscle activity may shift the loading to passive spinal structures (e.g., spinal ligaments and joint capsules), which is known to be a risk factor for LBD development. Collectively, the results from this study may help explain the high prevalence of LBDs in rebar workers. Future studies are warranted to confirm the findings at construction sites and to develop appropriate ergonomic approaches for rebar workers.
Original languageEnglish
Article number04016080
JournalJournal of Construction Engineering and Management
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2017


  • Biomechanical evaluation
  • Construction ergonomics
  • Occupational health and safety
  • Rebar tying

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Civil and Structural Engineering
  • Building and Construction
  • Industrial relations
  • Strategy and Management


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