Ergonomics in Manufacturing & Beyond
By: Ric Schlesinger, Contributor
The field of ergonomics continually strives to create products that, in industrial settings, improve production line operations and increase productivity while at the same time reducing or eliminating operator strain. Ergonomics is quite simply fitting the job to the person, rather than vice versa. It brings together anatomy, physiology, engineering and other sciences to design solutions that addresses the physical aspects of a person’s environment. In terms of a workplace, this may involve the layout of a workstation or the equipment needed for specific tasks. Particular attention is given to the prevention of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), which are injuries or disorders of the muscles, nerves, tendons, joints, cartilage and spinal discs. These can be caused by bending, climbing, crawling, reaching, twisting, overexertion or repetitive motion.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, MSDs are work-related when:1
- The work environment and performance of work contribute significantly to the condition; and/or
- The condition is made worse or persists longer due to work conditions.
Work-related MSDs are not rare; OSHA reports that they are among the most frequently reported causes of lost or restricted work time. In a typical year, MSD cases may account for a third of all worker injury and illness cases compiled by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
Fortunately, there are products that can help prevent MSDs. Lift tables are popular ergonomic devices that remove the need to bend, reach or turn past a comfortable, safe distance and angle. They are raised or lowered using a scissors mechanism. With yield capacities ranging from 1,000 lbs up to 40,000 lbs – dependent upon each specific application – lift tables can handle large, heavy loads, usually for short distances. Lift tables are widely used in many industries, including warehousing and distribution, transportation, manufacturing, woodworking, printing, and heavy machinery and transportation. In addition to being used to handle pallets and other sizeable items and loading vehicles, lift tables can position work at a height that is ergonomically suitable for operators.
The lift table’s functionality and versatility make it one of the most popular ergonomic products used throughout industry. This piece of machinery helps in many ways. Positioning the item being worked on at a comfortable level and ergonomic height not only increases productivity, making the operator’s movements more efficient, it also reduces the opportunity for injury and wear and tear on workers. By elevating the work to a comfortable, safer operational height, downtime is reduced or eliminated. This enhanced feature reduces repetitive motion injuries, which in turn can lessen a company’s overall workman’s compensation costs.
The application photo that accompanies this article demonstrates the use of ergonomic technology at a medical diagnostic company. Econo Lift worked closely with the company to discover needs and provide customized solutions to enhance the production line, in a specific assembly area. In the photo, you’ll see Lift and Rotate Tables, custom set to different heights dependent on the stage of production and the operator’s height. As their name indicates, these units not only lift but also rotate, so that excessive reaching is not required. This improves the work accessibility to a correct ergonomic height, dramatically improving the efficiency of each operator. The ability to rotate the table further reduces any reaching or twisting while working on the product; thereby efficiency is increased.
Another interesting addition to this design is that the customer desired automating the production line. By adding a powered conveyor attachment that grabs the Lift and Rotate unit, each individual portable workstation can be propelled down the assembly line to its next station automatically. This eliminates the employees’ need to manually propel the cart and removes injury due to push force. Time studies have calculated in this particular application that operator productivity increased production substantially, which in turn reduced costs and increased profits for the company.
While lift tables such as the kind used by the medical diagnostic company are in high demand, other ergonomically designed products are also being used in the automotive, pharmaceutical, food, warehousing, retail and other industries to help safeguard workers from suffering MSDs. Dumpers and upenders can safely and quickly unload bulk bins, drums or palletizing, preventing back strain. Ergonomic tilters also eliminate back strain, by tilting containers and parts toward the operator. Ergonomic stackers allow users to maneuver, lift and stack things safely. They allow full flexibility to easily adjust to any comfortable work height. Econo Lift also manufactures innovative air bag tilts and lifts that use compressed air – not people – to provide the lifting force. No electrical power is needed to operate them.
Using devices designed for ergonomic safety not only prevents injuries, potentially lowers workers compensation costs and boosts productivity – it also makes a difference in employee morale and employee retention. WMHS
Ric Schlesinger, in partnership with his late father, Otto Schlesinger, founded Econo Lift Limited in 1985, after identifying a need in the market for ergonomic equipment. Econo Lift Limited is on the leading edge of industry, implementing the highest level of technology in the production process and providing solutions to requests and potential health and safety, ergonomic challenges (www.econolift.net).
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