Industrial Ergonomics for Material Handling Applications
Industrial ergonomics can boost safety in any workplace, but for jobs that involve a lot of material handling, it is an absolute necessity. Without a well-developed ergonomics program, material-handling workers face an increased risk of developing musculoskeletal disorders.
In addition to keeping employees safe on the job, ergonomic interventions can improve productivity. Companies must be competitive, savvy, and cost effective in order to stay ahead of their competitors. But are they working smarter?
The strain of continuously driving to reach the top can have a direct impact on a company’s employees; physical overexertion increases injury rates and can lead to safety violations. Creating an environment that recognizes the employees while providing the appropriate support for their duties can generate overall success, but in order to obtain the benefits of a worker-friendly facility, you need to understand the basics of industrial ergonomics.
What Is Industrial Ergonomics?
Ergonomics programs involve creating a solution for the employee’s efficiency in their working environment. Employers must be aware of the various conditions and determine how to identify solutions for reducing physical stress and injury. It’s about being productive, efficient, and cost effective while recognizing the risk factors that can affect the overall results negatively.
According to the Arbill Safety Blog “Top 10 Most Common Workplace Injuries,” these injuries occur from overexertion or pushing the body beyond its natural limitations. This can include repeatedly lifting, pulling, or carrying objects with incorrect technique. Such repetitive motions can lead musculoskeletal disorders and other serious health problems.
Ergonomic violations can also have a direct impact on the employee’s ability to focus and make positive decisions as they can become fatigued and impatient. The results could be very costly to an employer as safety becomes even more of a concern.
The OSHA ERGONOMICS BROCHURE explains how adapting work environments and providing the right tools and machines could lessen the risk of these potentially serious injuries.
Understanding the methodology of ergonomics and developing a plan for your business and industry is vital. Educating both the employee and the employer will allow for a safer, more engaging, less stressful, and cost-efficient outcome.
Developing an Industrial Ergonomics Plan
The Ergonomic Process is a proactive six-step approach that a company can take in order to prevent injuries from occurring. The six steps in this data-driven system include the following:
Assess if various departments or job classes are more apt to encounter ergonomic challenges than others. Comprise a list of all departments and job positions in your facility. Then consider the ergonomic concerns workers may encounter in these specific areas. Odds are the proper tools and equipment can remove these risks. Some areas may require more consideration than others as you review the history of injury and incidents that have occurred. This is also a great way to identify which tools and products would be best for that job position.
Conduct a series of ergonomic tests to consider the specific risks present in each department or position. Here are a few tools that can help with this ergonomic analysis, courtesy of consulting company Ergo-Plus:
- WISHA (Washington Industrial Safety and Health Act) Lifting Calculator - This can be used to measure lifting techniques.
- NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health Act) Lifting Equation - Used to identify these lifting techniques and can provide specific guidelines and recommendations for making these repetitive, lifting jobs easier on workers.
- REBA (Rapid Entire Body Assessment) - Used to assess specific body exertions and posture and can provide risk factor variables.
- RULA (Rapid Upper Body Assessment) - Determines biomechanical requirements.
- Liberty Manual Material Handling Tables (Snook Tables) - Provides a general safety guideline that can be followed by most workers when considering certain job positions that require pushing and pulling techniques.
- Washington State Ergonomic and MSD Risk Assessment Checklist - Provides an overall finding of risks in a certain job position and can be used to assuredly discover whether a job is safe or not.
Begin developing a list of ergonomic opportunities to better distribute helpful resources throughout the company. Determine what tasks and departments take precedence over others by using the “ICE” (Impact, Cost and Effort) prioritization tool. Measuring impact is as easy as considering the injury cost savings and enhanced productivity in a specific job. Employers must study the costs of the equipment and tools that they’re purchasing, to determine if the price can be justified as an investment later down the line.
Effort can be determined by how much time and how easy/difficult an investment might be. Employers must consider the ROI. By comparing all of these components together, and by order of process and elimination, your organization can make the best decision for them.
Consider the risks associated with certain parts of the body. Each body part has the risk of getting injured depending on the job. It is important to think about what injuries and complications can come with an injury to every part of the body. Make sure to consider which job duties affect which body parts the most.
Consider if an ergonomic solution is right for your company? Use the Ergonomics Cost-Benefit Calculator [Excel] to calculate workers’ compensation, solutions, benefits, and paybacks. This tool can also provide you with numbers to back up or refute the need of a costly ergonomics solution.
Evaluate the intervention’s effectiveness and complete a follow-up assessment Is the department or job that you have been working with running smoother. Have the challenges or concerns been resolved?
By introducing this six-step industrial ergonomic plan, employers can greatly reduce the risk of workplace injury across the facility. They might even see a more efficient all-around organization.
Benefits of an Industrial Ergonomics Program
Identifying the proper tools and equipment for your staff can heighten production rates, while reducing the physical stress to create a safer working environment. Here are a few things employers should know before making a decision on implementing ergonomic solutions:
The ergonomics idea works as a solution to a challenge and can potentially cost a bit up front. However, many of the solutions for some ergonomic challenges in the workplace can be surprisingly inexpensive (such as adjusting the height of certain work areas and providing employees with short breaks throughout the day to stretch).
For the few solutions that may cost more, these costs can be viewed as an investment to prevent your company from having to pay out for workers’ compensation for the work-related injuries employees are at risk of getting.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics recognizes that in the year 2017 a total of 5,147 workers died from work-related injuries and that on-site injuries account for more than 1/3 of all lost-workday cases. It is also important to note that every $1 of every $3 spent on workers’ compensation goes towards these lost-workday cases. More than $15 billion to $20 billion in workers’ compensation costs go towards amending these compensations, which can cost a company a direct total up to as much as $50 billion annually.
Product errors will decrease when workers are provided with the tools and machines necessary to complete the task. This greatly reduces the risk of human error.
The benefits found from implementing ergonomics into a workplace can far outweigh the drawbacks, in many cases, as the costs tend to justify the means of the products. Many ergonomics solutions don't cost anything at all. Planning for ergonomic success is key. By providing your employees with the tools and equipment they need to perform, you can create an overall accomplishment within the organization. Ergonomic success means more engagement, fewer injuries, reduction in costs, and an increase in productivity.References:
"4 Major Causes of Workplace Back Injuries (and What To Do About Them)." SafeStart Blog, SafeStart, 4 Major Causes of Workplace Back Injuries (and What To Do About Them). Accessed 18 Dec. 2018.
Copeland, Julie. "Top 10 Most Common Workplace Injuries." Arbill Safety Blog, Arbill, www.arbill.com/arbill-safety-blog/bid/202877/Top-10-Most-Common-Workplace-Injuries/. Accessed 17 Dec. 2018.
"Ergonomics: The Study of Work." ErgoBrochureCover, U.S Department of Labor, www.osha.gov/Publications/osha3125.pdf. Accessed 17 Dec. 2018.
U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics, United States Department of Labor, www.bls.gov/. Accessed 17 Dec. 2018.
Workplace Ergonomics 101, Ergo-Plus, ergo-plus.com/workplace-ergonomics/#content-3. Accessed 20 Dec. 2018.