Workers in manufacturing environments are prone to injury, especially musculoskeletal disorders. This is known as cumulative trauma disorder (CTD) and is prevalent in the manufacturing industry due to the type of day-to-day tasks completed by employees including:
- Repetitive actions,
- Awkward postures,
- High forces, and
- Exposure to vibration from tools and equipment
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) identifies manual materials handling as the primary source of compensable workplace injury with four out of five injuries related to the lower back. This is because manual materials handling (MMH) tasks comprise significant risk factors:
- Pushing and pulling materials/carts,
- Lifting and carrying heavy loads,
- Frequency of manual material handling tasks (lifting, carrying, pushing, etc.),
- Bending and reaching,
- Twisting of the body, and
- Exerting force to perform tasks
In addition, it should be noted that push/pull manual materials handling injuries impact the whole body (shoulders and knees, in particular), not just the back.
As a result, organizations must make it a priority to focus on implementing ergonomics processes and best practices to reduce the risk of injury to employees.
The Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation identifies the steps to implement an ergonomics process for manufacturers. They highlight the importance of the management team’s commitment and participation in the process including issuing policy statements, meetings to incorporate employee and supervisor input, goal setting, and commitment of resources. In addition, employee involvement, task forces, and proper training on ergonomic processes is key to successful implementation.
The result of an ergonomic process is to implement ergonomic techniques and best practices. Employing ergonomics best practices in a manufacturing environment can make a crucial difference to decrease injuries.
Lifting and Moving Ergonomic Best Practices
Lifting and transporting materials is essential in manufacturing environments. Manufacturers must ensure that workers are performing these tasks as safely as possible. Here are some ergonomic best practices to help with MMH lifting and transporting materials:
- Lifting aids – can lift, turn, and place turn materials to reduce awkward postures (twisting and bending)
- Lift assist devices – by employing mechanical devices to lift materials, the forces on the worker’s body is greatly reduced
- Transportation devices – instead of lifting, carrying, pushing or dragging materials, transportation devices such as carts, conveyors, and automated guided vehicles (AGVs) should be used to remove the need manually transport materials – to find out more, read about the Fork-Free Revolution to Support Material Handling Ergonomics
- Lift within the “lifting safety zone” – elbow to knuckle height
- Use of proper lifting techniques – bend hips and knees
- Reduce the frequency of lifting, especially heavy load
Environmental Ergonomic Best Practices
In the manufacturing environment, there are many areas that can be improved by incorporating ergonomic principles. This includes ergonomically designed workstations. By assessing work stations, ergonomic solutions can be put in place to reduce the risk of injury. Some ergonomic solutions include anti-fatigue floor mats and desk/tables/chairs that are designed with the task and user in mind.
When it comes to manual materials handling carts, ergonomic design is critical to reduce forces for pushing and pulling. Find out more about industrial cart design by reading some of our recent blog posts:
- Industrial Ergonomic Best Practices in Cart Design
- Designing Wheeled Equipment: Purchasing Considerations to Achieve Long-Term Ergonomic and Economic Success
Awkward Postures Ergonomic Best Practices
Unnatural positions for the body can cause stress and injuries to muscles and other soft tissues. Since awkward postures can be common in a manufacturing environment, it is important to examine tasks to determine if ergonomic improvements can be made to alleviate these risks.
- Work surfaces should be the right height of the task and the user to eliminate bending or reaching
- Frequency of tools and parts should dictate storage location – those most frequently used should be stored within easy reach
- To avoid reaching, extension poles and adjustable height platforms can be used
- Workstations should be designed to accommodate the users being as comfortable and safely close to equipment/task as possible
- Knee pads and stools should be readily accessible to reduce squatting
- Utilizing a sit/stand stool can reduce the amount of time workers are standing
Pushing and Pulling Ergonomic Best Practices
Pushing and pulling is a frequent requirement on the manufacturing shop floor. There are many ways to improve the ergonomics of manual material handling pushing and pulling:
- Opt for pushing vs. pulling as pushing uses the body’s stronger back and leg muscles
- Reduce the distance of travel
- Focus on the wheels – ensure that the wheels are appropriate for the surface and are optimally designed (material and diameter) – to find out more about choosing the right caster to improve manufacturing ergonomics, check out these articles: The Science of Caster Wheels and Impact on Workplace Ergonomics, 5 Questions to Ask when Choosing a Caster, and How a High Quality Caster Can Reduce Workplace Overexertion Costs.
- Perform regular maintenance of manual materials handling carts and casters – to find out more about safely tracking and maintaining carts, read our recent blog posts: The Hidden Ergonomic Risks of Manual Material Handling Carts and Industrial Ergonomics: Best Practices for Cart Management.
If you would like to find out more about manufacturing ergonomics best practices, check out some of these great resources:
- Providing Ergonomic Solutions in a Lean Manufacturing Environment
- Production Ergonomics – Identifying and Managing Risk in the Design of High-Performance Work Systems
- OSHA – Ergonomics
- Manual handling in manufacturing
- Safety in Manufacturing – Ergonomics: Awkward Postures
To learn more about designing better carts to reduce the push/pull workplace injuries risks, download the Guide to Workplace Ergonomics.
If you would like to understand more about workplace ergonomics and how casters on carts can make a positive impact, contact us today.