Ergonomics – doing more with less

Today’s Guest Blog Author: Vince Castaldo is a Sales Engineer at Trilogiq USA. Vince has 15 years experience in implementing strategic process improvement and material flow handling solutions for manufacturing and distribution companies.

How do companies meet the expectations of ‘doing more with less’ in the manufacturing industry?

One approach that has proven effective in scores of manufacturing companies is to leverage the efforts of ongoing improvement initiatives to accelerate ergonomics improvements. While initiative techniques may differ, they all have a common goal: improve the bottom-line by working smarter.

Lean manufacturing initiatives are how things get done in manufacturing today. If you want to tap into maintenance time to resolve a known ergonomics issue, the easiest path is through the Lean Manufacturing champions. If you want to modify a manufacturing process to reduce ergonomic risks, the simplest approach is to align with Kaizen improvement team activities. Integrating your ergonomics efforts with these initiatives, however, means you have to ensure that your ergonomics process is systematic and data-driven.

Systematic Ergonomics

Manufacturing excellence is formalized, and projects are funded, based on data analysis. Consequently, ergonomics initiatives that do not follow a formal risk management process are not credible to the Lean Manufacturing or Six Sigma communities.

Risk management in ergonomics is simple and straightforward: Identify ergonomic issues, evaluate tasks associated with those issues, and control exposures where task requirements exceed human capabilities. There are numerous methods to complete each of these steps; the trick is finding methods that are effective and efficient in your work environment.

The most challenging part of ergonomics risk management is controlling exposure. Ergonomists know that engineering controls or modifications to the workplace equipment and setup are the most effective. Yet, funding to get these modifications implemented is often a roadblock.

Engineering controls must demonstrate reduction in hazard exposures. This goes back to the fundamentals of data analysis. If you can’t clearly define and quantify the problem, you can’t prove your solution resolves it.

Focus on low-cost, high-impact improvements. Far too often, ergonomics initiatives become stalled by the “home run” solution when a series of “base hits” can be just as effective at a much lower cost.

Capture the benefits of improved human performance – not just health and safety gains – in your calculations. Ergonomics improvements costing hundreds of thousands of dollars are feasible if you can demonstrate that they will pay for themselves with specific, predictable cost reductions.

Ergonomics and Lean Manufacturing

A key process to Lean Manufacturing is the accelerated improvement event. Sometimes called “Kaizen events,” the purpose is to quickly implement low-cost improvements that result in a measurable impact. Important considerations are how to engage shop floor operators in identifying and resolving ergonomics challenges and how to measure the impact of ergonomics improvements.

Operator involvement is critical to the success of improvement events. No one knows the process and the daily challenges that result in barriers to productivity like the operators do. Getting their full involvement in ergonomics problem-solving is accomplished through a simple “find it and fix it” approach. Relying on common language rather than technical terms, the “find it and fix it” method combines traditional ergonomics training (work-related musculoskeletal disorder symptoms and risk factors) with targeted ergonomics problem-solving skills.

Also critical to the success of improvement events is the availability of a method by which to quickly and easily quantify ergonomic risks. Measure the impact of improvements using a risk factor survey that has specific risk factors (“arms raised greater than 45 degrees” rather than “arms raised”) and a scoring system. Quantification facilitates priority setting and provides the “proof” that ergonomic changes really are improvements.

Contact us to find out how we can help you with improving ergonomics in your facility.