There is a drastic shift coming in the world of warehouse safety technology. Until now, the only way to know the effectiveness of safety measures was waiting six months to see if injuries dropped from previous figures. With new technology, companies can shorten feedback loops from 6 months to weeks or days by measuring the leading indicators that influence safe lifting instead of waiting on lagging indicators and end results.
Two of these factors are proper lifting form and number of repetitions. Many back injuries occur when warehouse workers lift incorrectly or when form breaks down after fatigue sets in. The first thing to do before you start measure lifting reps and form is to learn what safe lifting looks like. There are plenty of resources out there that can help with this. A rule of thumb is to make sure that workers are lifting with their legs instead of their backs. Train each of the workers when they are hired and make sure you periodically reinforce the importance of proper lifting. Ensuring that workers are lifting with proper form can go a long way towards reducing back injuries in the warehouse. Even if you have done the above steps, it’s possible that lifting form will suffer throughout the day. Just like a weightlifter or athlete, too many lifting reps can lead to fatigue and fatigue can lead to poor form even if a worker is trying their best to maintain proper posture.
For this reason, it makes sense to regularly measure lifting form and tweak safety programs to optimize it. You can measure to see when lifting form starts to break down, identify the root cause, and work to eliminate or alleviate it. There are several options to measure lifting form, but each comes with certain trade-offs between accuracy, effort, and cost.
Lift Tracking Methods
1. Employees self-report their lifting stats
During the day, have employees spend 20 minutes focusing on recording their lifting habits. Have them count one full order and record: the number of lifts, the number of lifts they thought were safe, and their thoughts on situations they thought were unsafe
- In this case, you are getting information directly from the source.
- You can gather a multitude of information from the entire workforce to give you a legitimate data set to work with.
- Employees will feel like their safety matters because they are being asked to take time out of their day to focus on it. This is one of the first steps towards building a good safety culture.
- Stats are going to be subject to memory and distractions.
- Each employee is going to have a different belief about what a safe lift entails.
- Any information you receive is going to dependent on the employee's willingness to share data. If employees are worried about the consequences of the data they provide (a sign of a potentially poor culture), you probably won’t get objectively accurate data.
- Each lift tracking session comes at a cost to productivity as employees split their focus between getting an order completed and tracking their stats.
- The data you get will show brief snapshots of the day and when these snapshots occur may have an impact on the insights you can discover.
2. Managers safety observation and evaluation
The safety manager takes a set amount of time per week to observe employee(s) and track number of lifts, lifting form, and thoughts on unsafe lifting situations.
- All stats will fit a standard definition of what a good lift looks like. The manager will be judging each lift on the same criteria every time.
- Employee productivity should not noticeably drop during observation.
- The manager will get a first hand look at what is going on in the warehouse and how things are changing over time.
- While under observation, employees may lift differently than they do under normal circumstances and they may revert to unsafe habits later.
- Employees may not like being observed which could cause morale problems and tension between the employees and management.
- Managers will get a small idea of one employee’s lifting behavior at a time.
- The size of the data set is going to be limited to the amount of time that a manager can dedicate to lifting observation.
3. Automated safety tracking
Just as devices like the Fitbit give companies the ability to track overall employee activity and health, there are technologies being developed to track lifting behavior. Employees would wear the device during a shift and the device tracks and scores every lift for later review.
- All stats will fit a standard definition of what a good lift looks like regardless of the employee, manager, location, or any other factor.
- All lifts are tracked every day, giving every potential data point for insights.
- While employees are wearing the device, they will be continuously conscious of their form so the effects of formal lifting training will last longer.
- Employees will not revert to unsafe form when the observation period ends because the observation period is continuous.
- Companies will not lose employee or management productivity as neither will need to take time out of their day for observation. They can just review data at a later point.
- Companies will have to pay for this type of solution. The cost benefits of reducing injuries and increased employee productivity will need to be weighed against the cost of the solution.
- Employees may not enjoy being tracked, though they may see benefits if their data is made directly accessible.
The solution you choose depend on what is best for your company. You may start with one and then shift to another as time goes on.
VIT Initiative is creating technology to reduce back injuries in warehouses and distribution centers. Arc, VIT's first product, is a wearable sensor that identifies unsafe lifting habits in real time as well as negative issues and trends in your workplace. If you are interested in learning more about how VIT can help your business succeed, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.