Human Engineering: Developing ergonomics programs for enhance d productivity and safety

Human Engineering Developing ergonomics programs for enhanced productivity and safety By Michelle Garetson May 2000 Ergonomics and its application in the workplace has become an increasingly important issue for management and workers...

Many times, WMSDs can be prevented by simple and inexpensive changes in the workplace through the following:

• Adjusting the height of working surfaces
• Varying tasks for workers
• Encouraging short rest breaks
• Using specially designed equipment or tools

Ergonomic Program Case Studies

(Source:, under Ergonomics - Technical Links) Management takes the ergonomic lead at PPG Industries
PPG Industries employs 31,000 workers, and manufactures glass, fiberglass, coatings, resins, paints and chemicals.

In 1987, PPG Industries also processed 2,500 workers' compensation claims, many of which were related to work-related musculoskeletal disorders.

The company developed a three-day training class held in Pittsburgh twice a year that was specifically geared for company supervisors and employees; however, suppliers and customers were encouraged to attend.

That training, coupled with the purchase of equipment such as pneumatically driven machines for heavy lifting, has helped drive PPG's workers' compensation costs down dramatically. In 1987, the company experienced 2,500 such claims, compared to approximately 1,000 nine years later.

3M institutes ergonomic program, reduces injuries
A 1990 corporate analysis of Minnesota-based 3M's injury and illness data showed that 35 percent of all OSHA-recordable cases were related to work-related musculoskeletal disorders, and 53 percent of all lost-time cases were related to such disorders.

3M employs 37,000 workers and manufactures 65,000 products, ranging from adhesives to heart-lung machines.

An informal analysis showed that manufacturing and offices accounted for most of the WMSDs. Implementing ergonomics programs in several demonstration plants resulted in a decrease in ergonomic-related cases and 3M implemented a company-wide program in 1991. Over the next five years, 3M realized a 22 percent decrease in recordable cases, and saw a 58 percent decrease in lost-time cases.

Follow-up surveys of individuals experiencing WMSDs showed that approximately 90 percent of employees had improved or completely resolved symptoms.

Easy Ergonomics - The Quick Fix
Often the problems that result in work-related musculoskeletal disorders can be fixed easily and quickly with very little expense. For that reason, OSHA's ergonomics program proposal includes a "Quick Fix" option. The proposal calls for job-based rather than facility-wide ergonomics programs. Therefore, if an employer can fix the one job that has resulted in an injury promptly and effectively, there is no need to take any further action. Quick Fix is for problem jobs that can be fixed in 90 days and double-checked to see that the fix works in the following 30 days. Thus, the whole process must take no longer than 120 days.

The basic obligation for the employer is to provide training to employees so they know about MSD hazards and your ergonomics program, as well as the procedures for eliminating or materially reducing the hazards. Employers must provide training initially, periodically as needed (e.g., when new hazards are identified in a problem job or changes are made to a problem job that may increase exposure to MSD hazards), and at least every 3 years at no cost to employees.

Those employees who will require training are those who perform jobs identified as problem jobs. The supervisors of those employees will also require training as will the persons involved in setting up and managing the ergonomics program, except for any outside consultant you may use.

Training for employees needs to cover:

• How to recognize MSD signs and symptoms
• How to report MSD signs and symptoms
• MSD hazards in their jobs and the measures they must follow to protect themselves from exposure to MSD hazards
• Job-specific controls implemented in their jobs
• The ergonomics program and their role in it

Those responsible for the initiation and management of the ergonomics program need to know:

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