In our last post we talked about how ergonomically designed material handling equipment improves worker health and safety by reducing expensive and potentially debilitating musculoskeletal injury. Business owners also realize measurable increases in worker productivity and product quality when ergonomic equipment and procedures are introduced into the workplace.
Most industrial equipment and work procedures were originally designed for occasional use, not the high-pressured, repetitive, long shifts found in the modern work place. By designing equipment that adjusts to the physical size and capabilities of each individual worker and by structuring work procedures to eliminate uncomfortable body positions during task performance, ergonomics decreases fatigue on muscles while increasing worker comfort. This enables workers to continue working comfortably without the frequent breaks they would otherwise need to stretch and rest tired muscles. Workers remain fresh and energized and can work comfortably through an entire shift. The result is decreased injury, better worker morale and increased worker productivity resulting in improved product quality. Ergonomics produces a win-win scenario for business owners and their employees.
Implementation of an effective ergonomic plan requires a three-pronged approach that involves engineering, administration and work practice modifications.
- Engineering modifications may include changes in equipment and tools used, workstation modifications and changes in the way tasks are performed. Because engineering modifications produce the greatest reduction or elimination of physical risk, they also result in the greatest cost savings. Reduced physical risk reduces the medical, insurance, disability and lost man-hour costs of potentially debilitating musculoskeletal injury. On its website, DJ Products provides an invaluable Ergonomic Load Calculator that can be used to estimate the force needed to move loads in a variety of workplace environments and recommend ergonomic solutions to your material handling problems.
- Administration modifications involve alterations to the work organization and/or workplace culture. While less expensive to implement, results are also less reliable in that they depend entirely on human compliance. Administrative modifications may include education and training in ergonomic procedures, restructuring job responsibilities to minimize repetitive tasks, worker/task rotation, increasing the frequency or duration of break periods for certain tasks, improving workers’ physical conditioning and developing oversight programs.
- Work practice modifications include the development of ergonomic procedures for the performance of each individual task, worker training and oversight.
The initial investment in ergonomics may seem to be considerable, but the benefits — and long-term savings — far outweigh the costs and continue long after the initial investment is recouped.
Monday: How ergonomics saves money