Occupational Performance Research Group (OPRG)

Specialist Research in Occupational Performance

Delivering research and consultancy to enhance performance in physically demanding occupations

OPRG team photo

The Occupational Performance Research Group (OPRG) is led by Professor Steve Myers and Professor Sam Blacker, supported by a core team of 5 research fellows, 1 research associate and 1 research assistant.

The OPRG specialises in delivering multi-disciplinary research and consultancy to enhance the selection, performance, protection and health of personnel working within physically demanding occupations. These occupations include the military, emergency services and industry.

Additional contributions to the team are made by a range of other staff members across the Institute of Sport as well as from the groups PhD students.

The OPRG has been awarded research contracts in excess of £5M over the last 6 years, and has worked with a range of clients including, the British Army, Royal Air Force, Royal Marines, RNLI, and the National Ambulance Resilience Unit.

For enquiries concerned with the OPRG please contact Professor Stephen Myers (s.myers@chi.ac.uk) or Professor Sam Blacker (s.blacker@chi.ac.uk).

Our Researchers

Meet our staff

Professor Stephen D Myers

Professor of Exercise Physiology

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Professor Sam Blacker

Professor of Exercise Physiology and Nutrition

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Dr Jenny Smith

Innovation Lead, Reader in Performance Psychology

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Dr Benjamin T. Sharpe

Lecturer in Cognitive Psychology, Programme Coordinator for the BSc Criminology and Forensic Psychology, and Academic Board Member

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Dr Kimberly Ashdown

Research Fellow - Occupational Performance Research Group

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Dr Sarah Needham-Beck

Research Fellow in Exercise Physiology

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Dr Carla Amanda Rue

Research Fellow

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Dr Tessa Maroni

Research Fellow – Occupational Performance Research Group

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Dr Christopher Vine

Research Fellow – Occupational Performance Research Group

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Faye Walker

Research Associate - Occupational Performance Research Group

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Research History and Capability

Our previous work

Since 2016, The OPRG have delivered over £5M of funded research.  Our research has been supported though funding and collaborative working with the following organisations:

  • British Army
  • Royal Air Force
  • Royal Navy
  • Defence science and technology laboratories (Dstl)
  • National Ambulance Resilience Unit (NARU)
  • UK Police
  • HM Prison Service
  • Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI)
  • Arqiva Telecommunications
  • Royal Life Saving Society UK

Researchers from the OPRG have also delivered funded research and consultancy projects in previous employment to the UK Fire and Rescue Service, Department of Health and the Nuclear Industry.

The field and laboratory based research undertaken by the OPRG aims to develop evidence-based solutions to enhance the health and performance of personnel working within physically demanding occupations. This research typically involves measuring and quantifying the underpinning mechanisms which are then used to inform applied evidenced-based solutions which can be implemented by organisations.

The interlinked research themes covered by the OPRG include:

  • Optimising Cognitive Performance
  • Physical Employment Standards
  • Physical Activity Exposure
  • Physical and Nutritional Demands of Work and Training
  • Thermal Strain of Work Tasks
  • Optimising Physical Training Programmes
  • Nutritional Strategies to Enhance Recovery and Adaption

Browse our Projects

Explore our research projects

Physical Employments Standards

Our research to develop Physical Employment Standards (PES) provides organisations with a framework of physical tests or assessments, which are based on the demands of their job role(s). The process for developing PES typically involves four phases of research: (1) Identifying the most critical physically demanding tasks performed in a job role; (2) quantifying the physical demands of these tasks; (3) developing physical tests based on the demands of the job which can be used in-service to assess serving personnel on a regular basis; and (4) developing pre-employment tests to select potential applicants which are empirically linked to the in-service tests and standards.

Physical Activity Standards

We develop and use a range of physical activity monitoring devices and techniques to measure the frequency, intensity, time, type and total energy expenditure related to physical activity that personnel in physically demanding occupations perform. These devices and techniques include heart rate monitors, accelerometers, GPS, and activity watches. This data can be used to inform the dose-response relationship between sedentary or physical activity behaviours with outcomes such as the development of physical fitness assessments, health outcomes or injury incidence.

Physical and Nutritional Demands of Work and Training

We use the physical activity monitoring devices described previously alongside video analysis techniques, ergonomic evaluations and the measurement of nutritional intake, through questionnaires and/or dietary weighing, to quantify the physical and nutritional demands of the work and training performed by personnel. These data provide information on progression of training, if the energy and/or nutritional requirements of personnel are being met and identify particular activities that are associated with higher risk of injury or impaired performance.

Thermal Strain of Work Tasks

We have the capability to use telemetry pills, rectal thermistors and skin thermistors to simultaneously measure core body temperature and skin temperature of groups of up to 20 personnel in the field environment. We have used these techniques to quantify the thermal strain associated with different work-tasks and identify potential interventions to mitigate rises in body temperature. We can also view the data captured by these devices in real-time to monitor personnel during research trials or at work.

Optimising Physical Training Programmes

Through the information gathered on the physical demands of job-roles and training we have identified two key areas where we are currently undertaking fundamental research to (1) Quantify the relationship between training load and the development of physical fitness and injury risk (2) Develop strategies to optimise the development of muscular strength whilst maintaining or improving aerobic and anaerobic capacity and muscular endurance to perform job-tasks.

Nutritional Strategies to Enhance Recovery and Adaption

The high physical demands associated with work and training for physically demanding occupations is a causative factor for musculoskeletal injuries. Nutritional interventions that have the potential to enhance the recovery and adaptation of skeletal muscle following exercise may also lead to a reduction in musculoskeletal injury. We are currently developing techniques to better quantify the nutritional intake of personnel working in physically demanding occupations and investigating novel strategies to enhance the recovery of muscle following arduous exercise that may have the potential to reduce musculoskeletal injury incidence.

Optimising Cognitive Performance

We have the capability to measure the cognitive demands of tasks using qualitative and quantitative methods including questionnaires, interviews, cognitive tests, simulation tasks, and eye-tracking. We have used these techniques to quantify the cognitive load associated with different work-tasks including demands on memory, attention, perception, coordination, and reasoning in relation to decision making and performance. We also investigate factors that influence cognitive load such as fatigue and anxiety. In addition, we have the expertise to identify interventions than enhance cognitive performance including optimising training designs, perceptual training and simulation training.

Hazard Detection

We have recently conducted research investigating the psychological factors and neurocognitive processes involved in drowning detection performance. We have also tested the efficacy of a pre-determined scanning strategy used by industry for hazard detection. We have also worked closely with lifeguards to quantify the impact of their role. We are currently undertaking an MRI study investigating expertise and training in lifeguards.

Technical Reports and Publications

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