It’s important to target ergonomics improvements based on the hierarchy of controls. But if you’re on the plant floor and the direct cause of an issue is related to product design, it can be difficult to implement an elimination control without access to the design team. In some cases, an engineering or administrative control at the plant level won’t be enough. Here are some tips for approaching the design engineers you work with.
Develop a business case for ergonomics
Engineering decisions are driven by cost. Often, designers are not aware of the impact of their designs on manufacturing costs, especially injury costs. Put together a clear explanation about how product design affects costs, such as injuries, productivity, absenteeism, and quality, and why it makes good business sense to design products adhering to a set of ergonomics guidelines so they can be manufactured with minimal risk.
Appeal to the designer’s humanity
Many designers don’t know how their designs affect team members on the line. If a part is difficult to install or causes injury, they may have no idea. No one wants to hurt anyone, so once they are aware of the problem, designers are more likely to change a design, or convince their managers that a design change is needed. Make it personal by recording a video of team members explaining the discomfort they are feeling and the impact it has on their lives.
Understand the cost of change
Working with design engineers, understand how much a proposed change would cost. Focus your efforts on higher-impact, lower-cost changes. Designers may be hesitant to make a change that costs anything at all, so calculate the return on investment. You may be able to change some minds by showing the clear financial benefit of the change. If the cost of the change is too high, implement engineering and administrative controls in-house, and feed your findings into the next product design cycle.
Understand the design process
Work with the design team to understand the design process for new products and how design is managed for current products. Understand where it’s easier and more cost effective to make changes to the design. Then use your business case to advocate involving an ergonomics expert in those phases and setting ergonomics design targets for the process.