Designing on a dime

Cost is always a concern when implementing ergonomics changes.  The important thing to remember is that many changes can cost nothing if they are procedural (alternating tasks more often to give muscles a break) or postural  (changing the way you keyboard to reduce stress on the fingers, hands, and wrists).  And that even when workstations need to be redesigned or equipment needs to be provided, costs can remain low.

This article recently caught my eye: Participatory ergonomics and new work:  Reducing neck complaints in assembling; S.A. Migueza, M.S. Hallbeckb, P. Vinkc.  This study was conducted at a cell phone assembly plant in Brazil.  There were complaints of neck pain from the workers and it was decided that ergonomics intervention was required.  The main ergonomic risk factor that was identified was neck flexion as a result of non-adjustable table height when assembling the cell phones.  It was determined that a raised horizontal “counter” would be best for the screw driving assembly task, and a sloped counter was best for the soldering task.  Height adjustable tables were not an option due to constrained finances, so the ergonomics consultants needed to fabricate these small counters from existing material at the plant.  They used PVC pipe and MDF boards found in the company waste.  Check out photos of the counters here:  http://iospress.metapress.com/content/f563l326n5813614/fulltext.pdf  These counters were quite successful, and resulted in a reduction in ergonomic complaints.

 As an aside, another great thing about this ergonomics intervention study was that the ergonomics consultants used a prototype counter first.  They then questioned the workers who reported compression points along their forearms from the front edge.  The counter was redesigned by removing the raised front edge and complaints decreased.  It is always important to get the opinions of the workers.  If they do not find benefit from the new ergonomic equipment, they will not use it.  And if it’s flawed, it could cause new or aggravated injuries.

Ergonomics intervention does not have to be costly, but it does need to be creative and it always needs to be tested for success.  If it’s successful, it will end up saving money on costs associated with injury.  It will also keep employees happy and healthy which is what everybody wants at the end of the day.

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