Saturday, February 21, 2009

Ergonomic Standards Still a Threat to Manufactures

Designing tools to avoid injury ...

"Even during a slow economy, manufacturers must still take all necessary precautions to ensure that their workers stay protected from injuries and disorders resulting from the repetitive use of improper manufacturing processes. Fortunately, by initiating preventative practices and selecting ergonomically designed tools, employers can help lessen their exposure to citation and liability.

A complicated and costly issue

Ergonomics is the science of fitting job functions to the physical capabilities of the human body. Without proper ergonomics on the production floor, employees can be subject to musculoskeletal disorders when a mismatch arises between the physical capacity of workers and the physical demands of their occupation. Jobs that involve reaching, bending over, using continuous force, working with vibrating equipment and doing repetitive motions pose a particular risk for developing injuries and disorders. To protect workers from injuries caused by over-extension, repetitive motions, and unnatural postural positions, OSHA has traditionally relied on existing powers to issue monetary fines to employers. The General Duty clause, Section 5, paragraph (a) (1), of the OSHA Act of 1970 states that an employer is responsible to provide a safe and healthy workplace for their employees. Absent a specific standard, such as in the case of ergonomics, OSHA can still cite an employer using that section. Not only is the federal government empowered to cite manufacturers, but also Section 18 of the Act encourages individual states to develop and operate their own job safety and health programs. Aside from the threat of fines from federal and state agencies, manufacturers also must bear the brunt of increasing worker's compensation costs and man-hour production losses. Manufacturers have much to gain by assuming a proactive position. Reducing worker fatigue can improve both morale and production line consistency while reducing absenteeism, and lowering worker's compensation costs.

Viable strategies to improve ergonomics

The old adage, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" has never rung truer than for the case of preventing ergonomic injuries in the first place. Since preventing ergonomic injuries relies primarily in fitting job tasks to a worker's physical ability, all prevention programs must begin with the interface between the worker and the production tools and equipment. Yet, high-output production runs common to today's manufacturing environment present a challenge, since most hand tools, for instance, are designed for only occasional use. Repetitive injuries become much more likely under such conditions. Typically what happens, is everything starts fine at the beginning of a shift," notes Brad Mountz, President & CEO of Mountz Inc., and a San Jose, California-based torque tool supplier for over 40 years. "In the case of an electric or pneumatic tool that an operator must use for eight hours a day, the worker might have it in his or her hand for three to four hours before fatigue sets in. Then, as the shift goes on, the worker starts to exhibit bad habits: not sitting up straight, not having the tool at the right plane or not maintaining a firm grip. This is when injuries occur and production mistakes take place." However, the optimal design of workstations and tools, along with the use of mechanical assists, can go a long way toward reducing the incidence of injury while improving production processes. For example, Mountz offers a line of "EZ-Glider" torque reaction arms specifically designed to reduce repetitive motion injuries by absorbing the weight and torque reaction of hand tools such as electric and pneumatic screwdrivers. By duplicating biomechanical ranges-of-motion normal to the human body, such ergonomic assists reduce joint stress. Mountz' linear arms, for instance, can sustain a maximum torque of over 73 lbf.ft. Fielding the recoil forces that the human wrist normally absorbs, an anti-rotating clamp prevents torque-arm rotation. An available extended arm shaft expands the working range of the linear arm, thus reducing rotator cuff and similar shoulder injuries. Articulated torque arms, with the ability to bend and rotate like an elbow, provide a 360-degree range, allowing quick rundown of multiple fasteners. These flexible arms accept a variety of tools including pistol grips, angle nutrunners, and inline electric screwdrivers up to 73 lbf.ft of torque."    (Continued via dBusinessNews)    [Ergonomics Resources]

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