Manufacturers are moving ahead by promoting comfortable work areas and ergonomically designed tools. This results in happy workers, better safety, and improved productivity.
Ergonomics is a "buzz word" familiar to most people in the construction field and manufacturing industry. Merriam Webster's dictionary defines it as "an applied science concerned with designing and arranging things people use so that the people and things interact most efficiently and safely-also called human engineering."
Because of the increasing number of injuries caused by repetitive motion, excessive force, awkward postures, and the use of tools, ergonomics has become a critical factor in workplace safety. Therefore, ergonomics is the science that seeks to adapt tasks and tools to fit the person. It's a way of looking at the overall organization of the design of tasks, tools, equipment, and workplace layouts, with individual people to fit the job to the worker, rather than the worker to the job.
Injuries from poor ergonomic conditions typically involve the bones, muscles, joints, tendons, and nerves. Even with the development of many new ergonomically designed hand/power tools are being developed, some chronic or cumulative trauma injuries are still caused by insufficient tools.
One of the largest ergonomics consulting companies in the United States, the Oyster Bay, NY-based Ergonomic Technologies Corporation (ETC), assesses and redesigns products, tools, and workplaces.
"Ten years ago, I had to spell the word 'ergonomics' to people," says Cindy Roth, ETC president and senior partner. "Once confined to academia, ergonomics has come to be seen by many companies as a valuable tool for increasing productivity as well as reducing on-the-job injuries."
Comfortable employees offer productivity with quality. With a broad background in engineering, healthcare and safety perspectives, the ETC staff (all Certified Professional Ergonomists) makes clients aware of the five ergonomic risk factors: force, repetition, posture (e.g., how much bending of the wrist or other part of the body is necessary to use a tool), environmental (e.g., noise, heat/temperature, vibration), and personal risk (e.g., size, vitamin deficiency, certain syndromes, pregnant women). By using a device called an "ergo measure," ETC can study body posture and muscle exertion to better design a product. The firm also sells software designed to help companies manage their own ergonomics program.
Specifically, ETC senior partner Kevin Costello notes that the Cumulative Use Risk Assessment Methodology (CURES), a program developed in-house that assesses risk by body parts, is proving very useful. This field survey process creates a risk potential for every job, using a rating from 0 to 10. (Costello comments that any rating seven or above should receive careful attention.) At each facility, operators answer questions such as: Do you have any pain? How often and how much? When this objective measurement systems study is completed, a summary report follows. Afterward, each person surveyed can follow practical recommendations.
For example, if a worker has left shoulder pain, management can look at other jobs in a worker's department that have a different mode of activity. Giving that worker an alternate job within the organization means that person can be brought back to work sooner. Industry officials speak highly of how be neficial a rapid return to the workforce is for both the injured employee and the employer. The ideal solution for reducing workplace illness and injuries is for senior management to commit to a written, proactive, cost-effective, fully funded, accountable program applying ergonomics. Such a program requires adopting a 'holistic' approach -making safety and health a corporate objective, similar to sales and profits. Since reducing compensation costs does have an immediate and far-reaching effect on a company's bottom line, why not have a proactive process to reduce them? Sales and profits are managed monthly or quarterly. Why not compensation reduction?
A formal safety program is essential in the workplace. Programs should promote communication of any discomfort on the job. And because tools cause many injuries, some manufacturers are designing products with ergonomics in mind.
Keith Mawson, vice president of engineering at McClier Corp., an the Atlanta-based office, recalls, "The basic manufacturing tools of years ago were designed before ergonomics was a science. So the new manufacturing advancement program addresses a number of ergonomic and quality issues."
Let's look at a current industrial construction project to learn more about the integration of ergonomics in a manufacturing process: Lockheed Martins C-130J Hercules transport assembly line in Marietta, Ga. The manufacturing techniques for the C-130 airplane had not upgraded for over 40 years. During this time, more than 2,000 aircrafts were produced. The current plant renovation program is designed to turn the manufacturing of the company's most popular aircraft into a state-of-the-art, world class operation.
Looking at the photo on page 48L (in original article), you can see this ergonomically designed operation. Since portions of the assembly line literally move an airplane through the plant during production, the new floor slab sections accommodate trenches for compressed air, fire control systems and data communication circuits-with a new electric power distribution system. These electric power feeders and branch circuits bring adequate lighting to workers. The new lighting comes from industrial-type, four-ft T12 two-lamp fluorescent fixtures, with acrylic plastic lenses, mounted on the project tooling (jigs) and work platforms around the aircraft. In addition, wheeled stations with these fluorescent fixtures are rolled inside a fuselage, allowing task lighting to be directed close to interior surfaces where intricate tubes, wires, and components are installed. Other ergonomically helpful components include bench seating and mini-platforms that raise the floor level sufficiently to make overhead work on the fuselage easier.
Another time- and effort- saving concept: Each specializing in a particular aspect of the aircraft, Natural Work Teams will be available to quickly answer questions posed by any assembler. These teams, made up of about eight to ten members, will be housed in modular buildings located close to the assembly line. How effective is the overall lean enterprise initiative so far for the Hercules airlifter? As James A. "Micky" Blackwell, president and COO of Lockheed Martin's Aeronautic Sector, responds: "We've gone far beyond using computers to check whether parts and components will fit together before we build them. For example, we can determine whether a given procedure puts too much strain on an assembler's elbow or shoulder. Then we can adjust the procedure so it's easier and less stressful. That makes for happier workers, better safety and improved productivity."