4 Simple Ergonomic Steps to a More Productive Workplace

Workplace ergonomics is getting a lot of attention nationwide in response to a sharp increase in incidents of repetitive strain injuries resulting in musculoskeletal disorders, such as carpal tunnel syndrome. Occupational diseases often mean repeated surgery, intractable pain, inability to work, time off for the affected employee and, ultimately, higher costs for the employer. Listed below are four steps a company can take to address this growing problem:

Step 1:Review tasks for risk factors: The first step to correcting problems is to understand the key workplace ergonomic risk factors and review work tasks in your operation to see which ones apply. This can make a tremendous difference, since occupational safety professionals estimate that reducing physical stresses could eliminate as much as half the serious injuries that happen each year.

Step 2: Control risk factors with engineering and administrative controls and personal equipment where it is effective: engineering controls to improve ergonomic risks may include changing the way parts and materials are transported or changing the process to reduce how workers are exposed to risk factors.

Step 3: Understand how to make the work space work ergonomically. With any task, selecting the proper tool is crucial. The key is to understand the work process and employee’s safety needs involved. After identifying the likely risk factors in an operation, develop a safer work environment by carefully selecting the tools and work stations workers will use.

Step 4K Use work station design principles to improve ergonomics. The following strategies typically yield safe work environments: 1) make the work station adjustable 2) locate materials to reduce twisting 3) avoid static loads and fixed work postures 4) set the work surface to the particular task 5) provide adjustable chairs 6) allow workers to alternate between standing and sitting 7) support the limbs 8) use gravity 9) design for proper movements 10) consider computer monitors 11) provide simple dials and displays 12) consider overall environmental conditions.

Addressing Ergonomics & Repetitive Motion Injuries in Manufacturing Facilities

In today’s manufacturing environment, ergonomics and repetitive motion injuries are major issues that every business must address to ensure production levels remain at expected levels and employee injuries remain as infrequent as possible.

Although many of the hand assembly processes have been replaced with automated equipment over the past 20 years, there is still a surprising number of manual operations still required for many applications. A good percentage of these manual assembly processes still involve the use of conventional hand tools, such as pliers, screwdrivers, crimping tools, etc. Whenever a manual hand tool is being used to perform a function, repetitive motion injuries may be the result. Taking steps to reduce or eliminate these injuries before they occur is important.

Whenever the application dictates, replacing hand tools with pneumatic or hydraulic tools should be considered. For example, if a technician is cutting leads on a circuit board for 6 to 8 hr. a day using a conventional cutting plier, the fatigue and repetitive motion factor escalates quickly. Replacing that hand cutter with a pneumatic cutter will dramatically reduce those factors. In addition, production levels will improve. The same process holds true for other hand operations such as crimping, pinching, turning fasteners, etc. Now, not all hand operations can be performed efficiently with a pneumatic tool, but whenever possible, making this switch will yield immediate results.

Typically, pneumatic tools can be operated with either a hand-lever control, or remote footswitch control. Most of these tools can also be hand-held or fixtured for hands-free operation. If the operation does not lend itself to the use of a standard, off-the-shelf tool, a custom designed tool can often be provided to meet a specific application.

Jim Norton is president of Custom Products & Services, Inc. (custom-products.com).