A recent trip to an apple orchard got me thinking about a question I often get asked by clients: “What do you do after the easy fixes (low-hanging fruit) are done?” Well, that’s when you get your ladder out and start getting your fruit from the hard-to-reach places.
In terms of ergonomics, this means starting to look at longer-term, higher-impact solutions which may require time, resources, and an increased budget to implement. You may be able to complete only one or two large projects per year, but your ergonomics process shouldn’t become stagnant. There are still a lot of activities for the ergonomics team to work on. Here are some things they can do while they wait for longer-term improvements to be implemented:
Walkthrough. A simple walkthrough of your facility may help you quickly realize that there is more low-hanging fruit than you thought. Also, benchmark against other facilities to see what improvements they have implemented. A walkthrough of a sister facility may show you a great idea you could apply in your environment.
Get input from a third party. If you’re still at a loss for great, short-term solutions, sometimes outsiders can see things differently and reinvigorate your efforts. Invite colleagues from other facilities to do a walkthrough of your site to provide insights and feedback.
Talk to operators. Confirm that what you’ve implemented in the past is still effective. If the solution is a good one, it should still be in use. This also gives you the opportunity to collect new improvement ideas that may have gone unnoticed.
Remember maintenance. Be attentive to your maintenance staff; even though they perform specific tasks sporadically, they can be exposed to musculoskeletal disorder risk factors frequently. Belt and motor changes, panel removal, and equipment repairs all include kneeling, bending, and reaching for long durations and often with high force exertions. So as your program matures, assess maintenance tasks and work on short- and long-term improvements.
Integrate ergonomics elsewhere. Ensure that all groups understand and apply ergonomics principles. For example, provide design guidelines to engineering groups so that they have standards to follow when introducing new products and equipment. Implement purchasing standards in procurement to ensure all new products are low/no risk. Institute a gate review process for a more formal review of plans before creating new workstations/jobs/operations. Train managers and supervisors to be aware of ergonomics and what to watch out for.
A good ergonomics process is a continuous improvement effort and the team should strive to get better every year. Increased awareness of the ergonomics process will result in more buy-in and support from the entire organization. Remember that the low-hanging fruit is the easiest to get, but the effort put in to reach the top apples results in the sweetest reward.