Protecting Employees by Making Your Workplace More Ergonomic

By Katie Takacs, Marketing Manager, Georgia Manufacturing Extension Partnership (GaMEP) at Georgia Tech

According to Wikipedia, “ergonomics is a multidisciplinary field incorporating contributions from psychology, engineering, industrial design, graphic design, statistics, operations research and anthropometry.” But what does that really mean? Ergonomic principles are applied in the workplace to minimize strain and stress on employees’ bodies. To meet that goal, it’s important to “fit the workstation to the employee and not vice versa.” By adopting specific design considerations within workstations, you can contribute to the overall safety, comfort and health of your staff.

From a business perspective, applying ergonomic principles helps boost productivity among employees. It also can help reduce employee turnover rates and lessen workers’ compensation claims. Historically, more than one-third of lost-time injuries are the result of overexertion/ergonomics injuries, many of which lead to extended days of leave. Those injuries result in direct and indirect costs to the employer, lost productivity, increased risk with employees shifting responsibilities and/or training costs for temps brought in to replace injured employees. From an employee perspective, good ergonomic practices contribute to a safe working environment, help to prevent long-term wear and tear that can lead to disabilities, and show staff that you care about their health and wellbeing.

To ensure that you are finding the solutions that best meet your employees’ needs, you will want to incorporate ergonomic improvements into your Kaizen events. By getting your staff involved at the beginning, you will allow them to identify areas for improvement, get their buy-in on changes from the beginning, and increase employee morale. Also, by identifying ergonomic risk factors as waste in a process, you affirm worker safety as a value-added aspect of your organization.

Some common practices of ergonomics in the workplace include ergonomic chairs and floor mats that provide thickness and bounce. However, going beyond what is traditionally considered ergonomics can make a huge difference to your staff. The following are some ideas in this area:

  • Providing compression stockings for staff members who spend a lot of time on their feet
  • Storing bins (with necessary parts) at employee’s reach level
  • Creating adjustable workspaces for each employee, allowing them to work comfortably and efficiently
  • Placing tools and raw materials within an employee’s safe reach zone in assembly settings
  • Utilizing lift assist devices such as vacuum lifts to reduce force and enhance productivity
  • Eliminating or reducing non-value-added activities that have negative ergonomic impacts
  • Rotating workers during shifts to minimize repetitive motions. This practice can be part of cross-training employees, which may also lead to better responsiveness to the customer

By integrating an ergonomics plan within your plant and linking that plan back to Lean or Six Sigma principles that you’ve already established in your workplace, you will uncover opportunities for continuous improvement that will reduce costs and increase productivity.

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