Magazine article Occupational Hazards

Applied Ergonomics: Systematic, Criteria-Based Intervention

Magazine article Occupational Hazards

Applied Ergonomics: Systematic, Criteria-Based Intervention

Article excerpt

The industrial environment is one of harsh realities. One such reality is that the dynamics of the environment constantly force change at a rate which often precludes the thorough application of sound ergonomic principles. The result has been a negative impact on the "ergonomic health" of the workforce, and an alarming increase in cumulative trauma disorders over the past decade.

Many times, when injuries and illnesses manifest themselves in the work environment, they are attacked in a well intentioned, but haphazard manner. These efforts too often waste valuable company resources by focusing on the "symptoms" rather than the source of the problem, which is a failure to integrate ergonomics into the manufacturing process itself.

A more successful approach to this problem involves the development of control systems which focus on the incorporation of ergonomic criteria into the manufacturing system. Let's take a look at such an approach for ensuring ergonomic health within the workplace.

A Different Approach

One of the most common mistakes made by companies attempting to solve ergonomic issues is their approach. Even well conceived and implemented ergonomic surveys and remedies will have a limited and relatively short-term effect if there is not an integration of ergonomic protocol into the manufacturing environment. The ergonomic issues discovered during such surveys must be seen as symptoms of underlying problems with the manufacturing environment that must be dealt with if long-term success is desired. Bringing about change within the manufacturing environment can be, and in most cases is, a very difficult endeavor. This process is made even more difficult by the common separation between the safety and medical departments, and the manufacturing division. This separation causes communication gaps and lack of cooperation that can be devastating to plant ergonomic programs. In light of this, a primary goal of a successful approach to improving ergonomic health is the integration of company resources into a common focus. This starts with education at all levels of the organization, emphasizing the need for ergonomic effort and the subsequent development of a system within the organization which will facilitate this effort.

Successful ergonomic health systems involve both proactive and reactive capabilities, and involvement from all areas of the organization. Four elements are critical to the program:

1. Proactive Approach: Involvement by those responsible for the design and modification of the workplace.

2. Reactive Capabilities: Quick, methodical response to complaints and injuries. 3. Medical Management: A system for early identification of ergonomic-related injuries and illnesses and a conservative medical treatment protocol, as well as a supervised return-to-work program.

4. Ergonomic Training: Appropriate training at all levels of the organization.

Proactive Approach

Missing from most organizations is a proactive approach to ergonomics within the workplace. In order to be proactive, ergonomic criteria must be incorporated into new designs. This requires two very important conditions to exist. First, these ergonomic criteria must have been established. Secondly, the process and design engineers, facilities and maintenance personnel, and supervisors must be thoroughly trained in both the established criteria and basic ergonomic principles.

Ergonomic work standards should be established that focus on providing fundamental guidance to those involved in job set-up. They should include at a minimum the following criteria: lifting limits and guidelines, criteria for overhead and over-shoulder work, limitations on static and repetitive forward bending, limitations on power tool use, and insertion force criteria (pressing and grasping). Additional criteria may be needed depending on the type of work being performed.

Once established, these ergonomic work standards will serve as a baseline for design, as well as identify problem jobs prior to complaints or injuries. …

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