Magazine article Occupational Hazards

Realistic, Cost-Effective Ergonomics for Real People: Using a Simpler Approach to Ergonomics and Stressing Design That Fits Actual Workers Can Reduce Costs and Result in a Safer, More Productive Workplace

Magazine article Occupational Hazards

Realistic, Cost-Effective Ergonomics for Real People: Using a Simpler Approach to Ergonomics and Stressing Design That Fits Actual Workers Can Reduce Costs and Result in a Safer, More Productive Workplace

Article excerpt

To reduce the costs associated with injuries and wasted effort, ergonomic principles should be applied to every possible work area to boost productivity and efficiency, and to improve human well-being. A cost-effective, practical approach to ergonomics is more hands-on than theoretical. The process involves anyone who can add value to get the most done with the lowest costs. This frugal, practical approach meshes well with the lean manufacturing philosophy that is in implementation in many workplaces.

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Ergonomics, although a legitimate science, isn't rocket science. Ergonomics does not have to be complicated in every application. The downfall of the OSHA ergonomics regulation a few years ago was due to a number of factors, but public indignation over the paperwork burden it would have created must have been a main one. All that documentation would have taken up lots of time at the expense of the time available to fix anything in the workplace.

Regardless of the regulatory approach, keeping things simple accomplishes a couple of worthy goals. One benefit is that ergonomics becomes accessible to more people when it is simplified. A factory worker with a high school education can be fully involved in an ergonomics program if the ergonomic approach is practical. Lots of companies will tell you that the production people are their main asset in improving their work processes. The creativity and first-hand experience that the production team brings to the table can be priceless.

The second benefit of using a simpler ergonomic approach is that jobs are assessed in a time-efficient manner and conclusions are reached more quickly. Some technical articles on ergonomics stress analyses and hardly touch on practical changes. The authors seem to enjoy the compilation of objective data and crunching numbers into graphs and charts. However scientifically valid this process might be, what the end users need are ways to improve tasks, not pages of numbers. The time required to analyze a task is tremendously shorter using simple "rules of thumb" such as those described in a recent article in OCCUPATIONAL HAZARDS ("Applying Manual Material Handling Guidelines to Job Tasks," November 2004). If the results are valid, it doesn't matter whether the course of action used to reach the conclusions happened to be time-consuming or short and sweet.

STRESSING RESULTS

To be worthwhile, the end result must be real changes in the workplace based on application of ergonomic principles. Application is where we get the results--application is where the value is added, not analysis. If we can get more results with less analysis, we have reduced activity that adds no value. Therefore, if our ergonomic approach is going to be lean, we should minimize the non-value-added part of the process as much as we can. (This approach discounts any side benefits that might come from a highly technical workplace analysis.)

Goals of our realistic, cost-effective approach to ergonomics should be to rely not only on engineers and managers, but also to encourage experienced production people to contribute their knowledge and ideas to the process; to keep the ergonomic process moving forward in a self-sustaining manner; and to eventually make the need for a re-invention process for existing equipment obsolescent. Main elements of our ergonomics program include:

1. Basic applied ergonomics training for everyone associated with production, perhaps tailored to the area where the ergo work will take place, light on theory and heavy on practical application. This training might only take a few hours if it is focused on the useful, practical applications, which is about all the time that a lot of companies will allow for a training class.

2. Assignment of specific job duties related to application of ergonomics to processes so everyone knows their ergonomic goals, with corresponding managerial emphasis, involvement and support to make it happen. …

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