Rethinking Ergonomics: More Than Your Office Chair, Keyboard and Mouse
Workplace strain injuries are among the costliest for maritime employers. Though often associated with office environments and equipment, many strain injuries occur outside of traditional office work environments. In a recent report on workplace safety1, overexertion – which includes strain injuries – cost employers $13.8 billion in 2017, accounting for nearly a quarter of all injuries.
As an employer, reviewing your processes with an “ergonomic eye” can help identify opportunities to minimize the risk of these costly injuries, while improving the productivity, quality, and morale of your workplace.
A Brief History of Ergonomics
Ergonomics has a deep and long history in industrial and manufacturing environments. Derived from the Greek words ergo (meaning “work”) and nomics (meaning “natural laws”), the word ergonomics first entered the modern dictionary in 1857 by Wojciech Jastrzebowski.
Ergonomics originally focused on improving work efficiency and human engineering of complex machines and weaponry. Early manufacturing pioneers such as Frederick Taylor, Henry Ford, and Frank and Lillian Gilbreth utilized many ergonomic principles to improve work processes and make their employees more productive and efficient.
Taylor found that he could minimize fatigue and triple employee productivity by providing shovels of different sizes and weights based on the specific job tasks and work demands, replacing the previous “one size fits all” approach which forced the employees to adapt and be inefficient.
The Gilbreths were the first to develop “time and motion study”. By studying a worker’s motions and eliminating unnecessary steps and actions, the Gilbreths were able to reduce the number of back bending motions in bricklayers by 75 percent, allowing the bricklayers to increase productivity by 290 percent.
Henry Ford’s production lines used two ergonomic principles: bring work to the employee’s waist level to reduce unnecessary bending, and use machines to lift heavy objects to minimize worker fatigue.
Today, ergonomic science is used in a wide variety of applications. These include Health and Safety Injury and Illness Prevention Programs, Lean Six Sigma work efficiency and process improvement initiatives, Human Systems Engineering and design of military systems, industrial design of consumer goods, and human error/computer interaction of electronics and software.
Five Ergonomic Risk Factors to Consider at Your Facility
By designing work based on “internal productivity” (i.e., not overburdening or fatiguing the employee, allowing them to produce more output with less effort), waterfront employers can optimize the efficiency and quality of their processes while minimizing the risk of costly workplace injuries to the back, shoulders, arms, and knees.
When reviewing a job with “ergonomic eyes”, we should ask ourselves, “Would I do perform the task this way?” By looking for ergonomic risk factors (known as conducting a risk assessment), we can identify ways to improve jobs and reduce risk of injury.
There are five main ergonomic risk factors to consider when evaluating a job:
Identifying Ergonomic Risks with the Stoplight Method
Maritime employers combat the above risk factors by implementing a simple and effective three-step approach to ergonomics, developed by ErgoHP LLC:
One easy method to SEE ergonomic risks is to use the stoplight method, GoGreen Work in Your Power Zone TM, also developed by ErgoHP LLC. This method, which uses three circles or arcs around the body to identify “work zones”, can be taught to employees and supervisors within minutes to be able to conduct their a self risk assessment.
The location of the hands when working determines the work zone location. For example, standing at a bench grinding a steel plate would be the green zone, whereas standing on a ladder working in the overhead or crawling through a bilge would be red zones.
The basic goal of the GoGreen Work in Your Power ZoneTM is to work in the green and yellow zones the majority of the workday. When working in the Red Zone, employees should stop and ask themselves questions such as, “Do I need help? Can I get in a better position? Is there a tool or equipment I could use to get me in the yellow or green zone?” The goal is to minimize or avoid red zone positions that quickly fatigue the body, reduce performance, take more time to complete, and increase the risk of an injury.
Next time you walk around your facility, use the GoGreen concept and count how many times you see your employees working in the green, yellow and red zone positions.
Train Your Ergonomic Eye as an Employer
You now have a better understanding of how ergonomics clearly transcends the office environment and has real application in shipyards, marine cargo handling facilities, and marine construction settings. By training your ergonomic eye to identify and address the risk factors outlined in this article, you’ll positively impact the safety of your workplace and your company’s bottom line.
Next month, we’ll discuss how the body becomes injured in various workplace conditions – and what you can do to prevent it.
1 2017 Liberty Mutual Workplace Safety Index. (n.d.). Retrieved September 18, 2018, from https://www.libertymutualgroup.com/about-liberty-mutual-site/news-site/Pages/2017-Liberty-Mutual-Workplace-Safety-Index.aspxSEE, SOLVE, SHARE and GoGreen Work in Your PowerZoneTM images and materials are © 2018 ErgoHP LLC. For permission to use them in your facility, please contact Ben Zavitz at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ben Zavitz, CPE is the President and Chief Ergonomist of Ergo Human Performance LLC, an ergonomics and human performance consulting firm that has developed many unique tools, methods, solutions, and programs for the Maritime Industry that minimizes risks and losses, and maximizes efficiency and company goals. He is a Board Certified Professional Ergonomist (CPE) with more than 20 years of experience implementing ergonomic, safety and process improvement programs for General Dynamics, Boeing and many Fortune 500 companies. Ben was the lead author of the OSHA Voluntary Ergonomic Guidelines for Shipyards and participated in the National Shipbuilding Research Program (NSRP) projects to develop and test solutions to address ergonomic/injury risk factors. He is a member of the CDC/NIOSH NORA Musculoskeletal Health Cross-Sector Council, Vice President of the Applied Ergonomics Society, and Program Chair for the Applied Ergonomics Conference, and has won several awards for his innovative and unique approach to ergonomics.