While leading a RAPID Team Event® last week at a chemical processing plant, I encountered the following situation that highlights a couple of good take-home messages.
Operators had to fill four 55-gallon drums with chemicals using a hose. The drums were located on top of a scale. Reaching to the drums at the back of the scale required a three foot reach–a reach that was giving the operators shoulder discomfort. During a brainstorming session, one of the ergonomics team members came up with the great idea of installing a turntable on the scale to rotate the drums positioned at the back of the scale closer to the operator. However, there was some doubt within the group because implementing the turntable would require purchasing approval–something that rarely happened for projects with no immediate return on investment. More importantly, they had previously proposed the same turntable idea 8 months ago to management to no avail.
Fortunately, the team persisted and got support for the idea by pitching it to all filling room operators. Not only did the operators love the idea, they claimed that a turntable was located in the next room over in storage. By the afternoon, the turntable was installed, and the operators were filling the drums with less discomfort.
This situation brings up a couple of important points. The first is that operators are a vital source of information and ideas for positive change. They are they experts, after all, and know more about their work than anyone. Secondly, ergonomic injury risk reduction can be accomplished with little financial investment as long as you give workers the opportunity to make changes.