Musculoskeletal injuries such as tendonitis and trigger finger are common in the manufacturing sector. In fact, such ailments account for more than one-third of all reported workplace injuries, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Consequently, many manufacturers have introduced new shop floor mechanisms that help employees perform their duties without overstressing their bodies. These specialized devices facilitate ergonomic workflows, or processes that complement workers physically and ultimately reduce the likelihood of injury.
Putting ergonomics to use
How do businesses go about integrating ergonomics into the workplace? The process often begins with obtaining the requisite equipment, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. For instance, a firm might swap stock floor-mounted parts containers for models that tilt upward to meet workers via actuators. This small change allows them to avoid repetitive lifting motions that may cause injury.
Of course, organizations can also adopt an ergonomic approach without purchasing new shop floor fixtures. OSHA recommends cost-free solutions such as lessening load amounts, moving work surfaces or repositioning shifts to take the load off hard-driving workers.
In addition to making engineering adjustments, firms also rejigger administrative processes to encourage shop floor safety and keep employees healthy. For instance, some may institute rotational shifts that allow workers to cycle between tasks that work different muscle groups. Others assign “floaters” to every shift. These employees essentially go where they are needed, stepping in when certain processes become too overwhelming for their scheduled colleagues to handle alone.
Maintenance management also plays an essential role here. Firms are encouraged to carefully track production asset performance and administer maintenance when needed. Damaged or unmaintained machines not only cause sudden catastrophic injuries but also lead to gradual damage, wearing on users until their mechanical inefficiencies manifest in bodies of the men and women who operate them.
The adoption of effective protective equipment is the final variable in the ergonomic equation. OSHA advises manufacturers to outfit shop floor personnel with accessories that facilitate a safe, yet productive work environment. For instance, the addition of new gloves with better grips can transform an arduous physical task into an unchallenging action.
Integrating ergonomics into the operation not only benefits workers – making them safer and reducing the toll daily activities take on their bodies – but also helps employers bolster productivity and save money. Kevin Reiland, product manager for the assembly tool division at Panasonic, told attendees at the 2014 Assembly Show that one single worker injury cost most companies around $28,000, Plant Engineering reported. This figure doesn’t include the costs associated with finding shift coverage and other necessary operational changes.
Of course, ergonomic processes are tailormade to facilitate efficiency, meaning manufacturers often see upticks in productivity soon after embracing these workflows. Firms of all sizes can easily protect their workers and catalyze improved operational efficiency by introducing ergonomics in the shop floor and the front office.