For me, 2015 has been a big year. I got married, remodeled a house with my new husband, and traveled all over the globe. My work travel destinations ranged from a small industrial town in Germany, to the Caribbean island of St. Maartin, to Somerset, New Jersey. I was fortunate enough to experience many different cultures and meet wonderful people who work in industries like chemical processing, spacecraft manufacturing, and even cruise-ship hospitality.
My experiences along the way were great, and a lot of fun. But what’s really important to us as ergonomists? The people. As our CEO Franz Schneider always says, “People matter… a lot.” And he’s right.
The definition of ergonomics we most often use is “fitting the job to the person.” The emphasis is on the person. If we’re reversing that definition and fitting the person to the job, we’re putting our employees at risk of developing an injury. We know high injury rates are bad for a multitude of reasons, but sometimes we forget that people are the ones getting hurt—people who may no longer be able to play on their softball teams, or are unable to knit or pick up their children as a result of a work-related injury.
I often find, at client sites, that ergonomics team members get excited about the “big wins” when it comes to reducing risk at workstations—as well they should. But don’t forget that there’s no such thing as a fix that’s too small when it comes to making jobs better for your people.
In the spirit of holiday giving, here are my five, favorite, free fixes that you can make to improve the work environment:
- Bring it closer. It doesn’t matter if it’s a pencil holder, screwdriver, or box of parts. If it’s frequently accessed, “ideal” is within 16″ from the edge of the workstation. But even if you move things 1″ or 2″ closer, it’s going to make a difference.
- Raise it up. In a perfect world, nothing would be stored on the floor. Anything you can do to raise parts and products is helpful (even a few inches), such as stacking empty pallets underneath parts or products. Want to go above and beyond? Get everything above 24″.
- Lower it down. I’ve been to many sites where paperwork, clipboards, or tools are stored at very high locations, simply because that’s where the nail was! Even if it’s something like a phone or first aid kit, try to lower it to 62″.
- Move it farther away. Counterintuitively, sometimes it’s better to move parts and products farther away. If employees must twist to retrieve or place parts, consider moving the destination farther away, to encourage employees to take an extra step and reduce the twisting. A distance of 36″ should ensure that employees keep their backs straight.
- Relocate valves and controls. This fix is a bit more time-intensive, but if you’re performing maintenance on equipment or machines anyway, consider relocating the valves or controls. Often, these controls are located anywhere they fit, without much consideration to the end user. Try to get them as close to 42″ above the floor as possible to make them easy for your employees to access.
- Bonus fix! Add handles. Adding handles to carts and tools can be a quick and easy way to make things a bit easier for employees. It doesn’t have to be fancy. I’ve seen sites repurpose pizza cutters to optimize existing tools. If you are adding handles, make sure they’re at least 5.5″ long with a 1.5″ diameter.
So there you have it, some quick, easy wins. I would encourage each of you to do one thing at one workstation before the end of the year. I think you’ll be surprised at how much employees will appreciate the attention. Remember, at the end of the day, our job as ergonomists is to keep people happy and healthy so that they can enter 2016 at their best!