Home Data Collection Challenge: Interviewing the Hard of Hearing Operator on the Shop Floor Ergonomics Done Right®

Written by: Kent Hatcher on August 18th, 2010


_DSC7458-1 Submitted by Kevin Perdeaux, AEP

One of the greatest aspects of being a consultant is the opportunity to face new challenges in new environments every week. I was recently faced with a challenge I had never experienced before – performing a workstation evaluation, interviewing an operator that is hard of hearing. Using what very limited sign language I know, I quickly discovered that communicating ergonomics with hard of hearing persons is really no different from challenges presented through language or literacy barriers. At Humantech, consulting globally frequently presents unique communication challenges, yet I had never had the opportunity to interact with a hard of hearing operator on the shop floor.

As with any method of communication, hand gestures and drawings are an effective way to communicate the basic principles of ergonomics, particularly when you are on the assembly line and need to get information as quickly and efficiently as possible. It is typically understood that raising work off the floor surface or moving the workstation closer to you is attempting to make the job easier. Getting specific feedback from the operator required the use of pen and paper, but that wasn’t a very efficient method to use on the shop floor during heavy production. So on a small personal quest to learn more about ergonomics and hard of hearing, I came across a few interesting sources:

Contemporary
Ergonomics (2004) by Paul T. McCabe

This book includes a section on ‘Hearing loss: inclusion through design’ and discusses the many occupational challenges hard of hearing people encounter and shares some basic examples on design solutions. Strategies include: extremely clear and concise visual communication (ex: enhanced visual feedback systems using lights and displays); training co-workers in sign language and providing an easy means for the worker to communicate with hearing persons.

Discovering Deaf
Worlds – www.discoveringdeafworlds.com

A revolutionary, non-profit organization that is documenting sign languages in some of the most remote regions on the planet and developing resources to improve access to education for impoverished, resource-limited populations. Did you know that sign language is not universal? Signing can vary significantly even between two Himalayan tribes!

It’s interesting to note the efficiency of sign language. Think of all the times where background noise (loud workplace, restaurant, etc.) has made communication difficult. Signing can also help maintain privacy in conversations. Perhaps we have something to learn?

I am curious if anyone else has had experiences with ergonomics and unique populations such as those that are hard of hearing, blind and/or illiterate. Any advice for fellow professionals?

2 responses to “Data Collection Challenge: Interviewing the Hard of Hearing Operator on the Shop Floor”

  1. Kevin,
    My wife Deedra made it a point to teach our daughter Morgan baby sign language. Out of the experience we’ve found it most useful when at the Pool (loud noises) or at an amusement park(long distances) for making sure we can communicate. I’m not sure how it would work on privacy if a third party knew sign language as well they could easily follow the conversation.

  2. Thanks for your comment Carl. That is fascinating you are teaching your young daughter to sign, no doubt a skill she will make use of, and seems to be already!
    For everyone who is following this thread, a colleague of mine at the University of Waterloo, Canada has done some leading research investigating the relationship between signing interpreters and musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). They are trying to study the impact of repeated use of the hands for signing and how this may contribute to an ergonomic hand injury. Here’s a link to the study –
    http://ahsmail.uwaterloo.ca/~sfischer/Documents/OHSGuideforSLI_2.0.pdf

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