4 Must-Haves for a Good Industrial Ergonomic Program

For logistics and manufacturing companies, handling and transporting materials is a vital part of any healthy business. The exposure to large amounts of handling create risks in a workplace via overexertion, strains and sprains, trips and falls, among others. Companies that proactively account for and address these risks have fewer recordables, fewer days away from work, and higher productivity.

One of the best proactive measures that a company can take is to institute an ergonomic program. A great ergonomic program will help ensure that team members are following best practices to reduce harm to their body in during the course of a day’s work. ergonomic programs can and should be different for every company. NIOSH recommends a six step process for designing, implementing, and evaluating an ergonomic program. In this blog post, we dive deeper into the metrics and evaluations to help assess and improve your program.

4 elements for a great ergonomic program

Safe Lifting Training Feedback

A primary source of musculoskeletal disorder (MSD) risk at warehousing and distribution companies is the repetitive lifting and movement of items throughout the day. To combat this risk, smart companies will incorporate safe lifting training into their routines. New hires should receive and initial training and safety managers should give regular refreshers to make sure safe lifting stays top of mind.

But one important element missing from these training programs is follow-up feedback, to determine if the training is effective and that the information is really being absorbed.

Method 1 - Post-training Quizzes

The first option is to make sure that team members remember the information that has been presented. A quick 5-10 question quiz will allow managers to see if knowledge is being transferred, as well as identify opportunities for more one-on-one coaching as needed.

Method 2 - Post-training Practice

The second option is to make sure that team members are putting the new information into practice right away. This is particularly prevalent with athletes in sports. Coaches will teach a fundamental, then players take the field and practice the technique learned. This practice is repeated up to hundreds of times before the player takes the field. No player runs out onto the field without learning and practicing the proper mechanics first, nor should any team member be put onto the facility floor without a similar foundation.

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Real-time coaching and observations

Training often isn’t enough. A good safety manager will also regularly provide reinforcement. This means getting out onto the floor and observing team members as they go about their day-to-day work.  The result is an opportunity to provide one-on-one coaching and the building of a good safety culture. When employees see that safety means more than just a box checked that training was done, they will care more about it too.

But it shouldn’t just be safety managers who walk the floor and observe. Shift supervisors and operations managers should also be on the lookout, which further reinforces a safety culture. Make sure that these managers are trained up on what to look for. Supervisors often receive vague instructions like “keep an eye out for unsafe acts” without ever getting a definition of what an unsafe act is. A simple solution is to keep a scorecard with items to watch out for as they make their rounds. Scorecards should only focus on a few items at a time and be rotated on a regular basis so that observation is easy.

Example scorecard:

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At end of every day each supervisor will submit this score card. Management can then check these scorecards and measure success based on

  1. Are observations happening regularly with results being submitted?

  2. How many boxes were left unchecked at the end of the week? Month?

The easiest way to get started is to use index cards with a print out of checkboxes. However, for a more efficient system we recommend investing in a mobile platform that supervisors can create forms and logged them automatically.

Job Safety Analysis

Job Safety Analysis (JSA) is a crucial component to any safe working environment. A typical JSA will be performed in the following steps:

  • Select the job
  • Create a sequence of all steps in performing that job
  • Identify potential hazards for each sequence
  • Define preventative measure for hazard avoidance

Care should be taken to not be too vague or too details. Vague or general steps may lead to omittance of some hazards. If the job has too many steps, it may make sense to break it down into several jobs.

NASA Example:

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You may not be sure where to start when trying to identify hazards. The CCOHS has a good list of starter questions on their JSA Fact Sheet.

Once hazards have been identified, the best preventative measure will eliminate those hazards. If a hazard cannot be eliminated, a company should try to design processes to minimize or work around it safely.

JSAs can be very useful for identifying job components that may lead to strains, falls, or other issues that can develop into MSDs.

Identify and address awkward spaces in a facility

Of particular interest for reducing MSDs through hazard analysis is identifying awkward spaces. Many incidents can happen when the environment forces team members to abandon the way they are instructed to do a job. Due to the focus on productivity in many of these roles’ performance evaluations, team members will usually find a way to finish the job quickly at the cost of safety. Awkward or confined environments can lead to repeated poor mechanics, which may eventually work their way into the rest of the job.

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Risky locations on the job site should be documented and steps should be taken to minimize the effect they have on team members’ work. Sometimes new protective equipment will be necessary and others times the best route may be workplace redesign.