In ergonomics, the worker is the central figure. In safety-critical industries such as manufacturing, it is best practice to fit a job to a worker’s capabilities. Assessing hazards using objective and subjective exposure of risks to workers, fitting a task to the individual and using equipment to assist is essential.
The goal of ergonomics is to prevent work related musculoskeletal disorders (WRMSDs). When done right, the complete workplace chain benefits.
When ergonomics is overlooked or considered only for well-being measures in the manufacturing industry, overall system performance suffers.
The value of good ergonomics in the manufacturing industry is key to running a lucrative organization, not just for the safety of employees but for complete business financial and operational success.
Ergonomic Risk Factors
Despite the increased level of automated equipment in the manufacturing industry, ergonomic risk factors for workers are still high due to the physical demand.
Manual materials handling often involves the following risk factors, which can increase the likelihood of workers being injured. OHSA describe these as:
- Lifting heavy loads
- Carrying bulky loads or loads far away from the body
- Frequent lifting
- Bending the trunk, as when picking items up off the floor or when reaching into a bin
- Twisting the trunk
- Static loading, such as holding or carrying objects for long periods of time
- Pushing or pulling
Risks factors related to the object being handled are: load, dimension, load distribution, load stability.
Risks related to the task are: frequency/duration/pace, distance moved, workplace geometry, complexity issue of the task.
Manufacturing Ergonomics Best Practices
Lifting and transporting materials is essential in manufacturing environments and providing workers with the support, training and the implementation of ergonomic interventions will ensure that workers are performing these tasks as safely as possible.
Lifting & Moving of Materials
Lifting with poor technique can be described as making end range bending movements while performing working tasks. End range bending places muscles at full stretch, which leads to temporary muscle weakness or ‘deactivation’. As a result, the spine is not adequately protected by its muscles, potentially making it unstable. Moreover, additional activation of muscles may increase metabolic cost and consequently contribute to associated muscle fatigue, leading to injury.
- Lifting aids – the use of lifting aids can help to lift, turn, and place materials in a position to reduce awkward postures while lifting.
- Lift assist devices – by installing mechanical devices to lift materials, the forces on the worker’s body is reduced.
- Transportation devices – instead of lifting, carrying, pushing or dragging materials, transportation devices such as carts, conveyors, forklifts and automated guided vehicles (AGVs) should be used where possible to remove the need to manually transport materials and reduce the force impact on the body.
Awkward and Static Postures Ergonomic
When the body holds a single or awkward position, for an extended period or shifts position but fails to allow the muscles to return to a neutral place, comfort and performance are impaired. Static postures increase the load on muscles and tendons compared to dynamic postures. These static positions may reduce blood flow to the muscles, thus preventing the body from engaging in the natural process of restoration and repair.
To avoid the body being stressed there are several best practices that can be put in place to inhibit tissue damage resulting in injury:
- Using mechanical aids such as adjustable height platforms and extension poles to avoid overreaching.
- Checking that height of work surfaces is appropriate or provide height adjustable stands to avoid having to bend or reach. Providing a sit/standing stool.
- Supportive equipment such as knee and elbow pads and cushioning.
- Work practices should be examined making sure that all frequently used tools are within easy reach.
- Workstation design should accommodate the work processes.
Manual Material Handling Training
Providing appropriate manual materials handling training that involves increasing a worker’s awareness of their movements and body. This gives the worker more chance to avoid potential injuries by self-adjusting when they feel they are moving into an unsafe zone.
Fitting the task to the human is not always possible owing to environmental limitations, or lack of appropriate technology or equipment. There is also difficulty for an assessor to truly understand the task as they lack expertise in the work. The worker understands the task, but often lacks the awareness of the risks involved. The ideal scenario of engineering out hazards or eliminating them is ultimate but many industries remain reliant on manual workers to have the awareness and ability to do the job in ways that do not risk their musculoskeletal health. Equipping workers with the learning tools and capacity to feel responsible for their own bodies and movement can help bridge the gap between limitations in the designed task and musculoskeletal safety.
Tips to Control Ergonomic Hazards According to OSHA
OHSA advises to control ergonomic hazards it is essential to continue to adhere to the following:
Eliminate the hazard – using engineering controls to remove the risk factors. Some examples include redesigning workstations, adjustable tables, providing carts and mechanical hoists, appropriate tools that decrease awkward hand positioning, and alter storage of equipment.
Improve work policies and procedures – using administrative controls. Examples include, job rotations, increase staffing, frequency of breaks, encouraging safe lifting techniques and provide good training, follow good housekeeping practices i.e., slip or trip hazard identification.
Provide personal protective equipment – if risk factors are unable to be eliminated through redesign or procedures, providing equipment such as knee pads, should pads and gloves can assist with preventing injury.
Establish a comprehensive ergonomics program – Elements of a good program include:
- Management commitment
- Worker involvement
- An organizational structure to get the work done, such as an ergonomics team or committee
- Training and education of workers and supervisors
- Job evaluation to identify risk factors
- Hazard prevention and reduction or elimination of risk factors
- Early detection and treatment of ergonomic injuries, and medical management of injury cases
- A system for workers and supervisors to report ergonomic problems, symptoms, and injuries without reprisal
- Ongoing evaluation of the ergonomics program
Benefits of Effective Ergonomics
Installing ergonomic interventions and best practices into the design plan of a task and using good safety management processes can assist to reduce the risk of injuries. Not only does this have a positive impact on the employee but greatly benefits the organization as a whole. In brief, benefits include:
- Reduction of costs
- Higher employee engagement in work practices
- Improved quality of workmanship
- Increased productivity
- Better safety culture
- Overall business financial and operational improvement
About Soter Analytics
Soter Analytics is a global safety science company producing AI-supported wearable solutions that reduce the risk of ergonomic injuries in the workplace. Soter wearables are widely used in logistics, manufacturing, healthcare and other industries, helping leading companies to prevent up to 55% of back & shoulder musculoskeletal injuries.
To see how Soter Analytics can help you improve safety behaviour, engage employees to self-manage their training and prevent workplace ergonomic injuries, simply Book a FREE Demo today.