When we hear the word ergonomics, we tend to associate it with the word “comfortable.” This is, after all, not entirely out of the truth, but I think it is more appropriate what Wikipedia‘s article telling: “The work environment should fit to the person, not the person to the work environment”. So in the course of our work, it is good to be able to remain as close as possible to our natural movement, materials and comfort zone; of course, all this safely.
Ergonomics must be an important consideration for both the employer and the employee when designing workflows and tools. For an 8-hour shift, it might not seem like a big deal in which angle I move my waist, how I hold my hand, or the direction I need to turn my head to see a display; but if I do exactly those movements for years or decades, they will have a serious effect on my body and my health.
Half-sided loading of the back or inverted wrist for years can lead to pain in the joints or muscles, deformity of the limb or even hernia.
As first part of our series of articles, let’s take a look at the life of manufacturing workers and see some simple tricks to streamline the day-to-day work. It is important to note here that for us safety is the number one concern with all of the equipment and accessories listed below. However, as we now have a wide range of safe accessories and tools to choose from, it is worth to think over as a secondary consideration the comfort as well.
There are already softwares available to accurately measure and 3D model the movement of a colleague in a given job. On one hand, these softwares can make ergonomic problems spectacular, for example, with the help of a RULA analysis (Rapid Upper Limb Assessment). This will show you which movement is completely safe and which one could lead to an accident, with more or less possibility. Another very useful feature of these kind of ergonomics softwares is the optimization of logistics. We can find the movements or logistic elements that are now causeless complicating or prolonging the processes. These kind of solutions are offered by the software of ViveLab as well.
In Hungarian perhaps the “mobile chair” (“mobil szék”) may be the most useful term for the device shown in the opening image. This begins its conquest, especially in modern factories where there are positions where you can sit, stand, and typically change locations frequently. It can be a good solution to rest your legs and back for a few minutes after a long period of standing work. However, it is also worth pointing out that the angle of the seating with this device is not suitable for several hours. From safety point of view, it’s also questionable how stable the device is or how easy it is to fall backward. Unfortunately, we haven’t had the opportunity for personal testing yet, but if anyone has experience to share, we’d love to hear from you. 🙂
Even if you are working in manufacturing, you have a good chance to stand while working or walk a lot in the factory. Depending on your company’s HSE policy, but at most of the places you should do this in safety shoes with the right level of protection. There are cases when all-day standing and walking puts an extra load on the soles what an average shoe cannot manage. In these situations, we recommend the use of jelly or memory foam insoles. They can provide an extra support to the sole that makes it easier to work all day. If decision-makers are open to it, it’s maybe better to choose a shoe supplier who is providing automatically insoles for the safety shoe or having an interior design that adequately supports the sole.
The workwear must protect its owner from various minor injuries, it’s not a question. However, due to the plant’s characteristics and individual preferences, these dresses are often unable to suit to the right tempriture. In cold weather it is better to dress underneath your workwear, because the cold for long hours increases the ability of the muscles to cramp and increases the feeling of pain intensity. Some muscles tend to become tighter (for example, fingers, hands or neck); making it harder to move, easier to strain.
The situation can be similar in summer: then a thin cotton t-shirt under the dress can help to properly ventilate our skin and protects from overheating.
You may have to bend many times during work. For example when taking some raw materials from a box or putting the finished products into a box on the ground, or the machine being worked on has a part close to the ground that needs to be cleaned and adjusted several times a day. It is very important how exactly we bend. We never bend with our back, but from the waist; if possible with toned muscles and even slightly bent knees – depending on the specific location and situation. What exactly does this mean? Let’s test it together now. Drop a pen or keychain on the floor and bend to take it. If the center of our back is humped like a little cat, it’s wrong. Try to keep the middle back straight and really bend with using the waist. Keeping your muscles tonic can help a lot. Try to tighten your back and waist muscles, like you would expecting someone to put a little extra weight on your shoulders which should be lifted with your back muscles. This motion can be a challenge for many of us because of the stiffness of the lumbar muscles, and we can make it easier if we do this movement not with closed legs but in a small straddle (so the stomach will be not squeezed into a small place). Ee do not necessarily have to stand with dead rigid legs, but we can lightly bend them from our knees. And we’ve already picked up the dropped pen.
I know a simple thing like bending seems infinitely over complicated in such detail; but to repeat the above, who needs to bend a lot every day, needs to pay attention to these details for his future health. And remember, a new habit – such as the correct bending method – can be learned much faster and easier than you might think, with just a little care.
Although the current Hungarian occupational safety laws and regulations do not have a specific limit on the weights that can be lifted during work. In any case, we do not recommend trying to be a hero in this field without lack of serious weightlifting experience. A badly lifted sack or weights that have been badly lifted for years can leave a serious mark on us: persistent back pain, pinched nerves or even spinal hernia. If we have any lifting tool at our disposal, we should use it and over the years our back and spine will be grateful for it. If a worker finds himself forced to lift weights that are already reaching or exceeding his maximum physical performance, he may be in danger of being injured; then he has the right to deny work. We offer the same tips for lifting as for bending: straight back, toned muscles, slightly bent knees.
You may also have a job that requires you to do the exact same move quite often. Typically, this is the case with so-called production line work, where you need to do exactly the same thing every few minutes for assembly or inspection. In case of a well-established workflow and toolbox, this should not result in serious health problems for the workers. However, if you only need to stretch a little more on the object (and load your back, waist), if you need to turn more sideways than comfortable, or if your arms need to be moved for a longer distances (from waist to shoulder height and back), it can be a long-term burden on the affected limb.
As an employee, we can try to find the best possible location and position within our work area so with that we do not have to over-stretch or twist; but in most of the cases this does not lead to a satisfactory solution. If we feel that our workflow is constantly demanding physically, then let our supervisor know about it. Specialized process engineers, machine engineers, or LEAN specialists can assist management to rethink processes or get new tools to help protect workers’ health.
Ergonomics of personal protective equipment
As mentioned above, safety is a top priority. If, on the other hand, it is possible to have protective equipment which is not only safe but also ergonomic, why not opt for this approach? In many positions it is mandatory to wear an industrial helmet, safety glasses, mask or different gloves. Nowadays, when choosing these tools, you need to take into consideration during selection, how personalized the tool is or how skin-friendly the material is. If we have the opportunity to participate in the selection of personal protective equipment for the company, try to take these aspects into consideration as much as possible. If you, as a procurement colleague, have no personal experience in using the tools, then do not hesitate to ask for advice from colleagues who will wear these items daily.
At first, it may seem strange why we mention on-screen work, but in a modern industrial environment, the topic is absolutely valid. Many manufacturing machines are already connected to a centralized control system, which immediately informs the responsible colleagues on a laptop if there is any problem with the machine. In addition, the machine’s own control panels look like a tablet. So there are jobs in manufacturing where you have to spend most of your working time looking at a monitor. Therefore, it is important to mention here, too, to relax the eyes for 10 minutes and remove the focus from the lightning monitor. Let’s do anything else.
Today’s modern displays no longer require the so-called monitor filter glasses.
When it comes to workplace ergonomics, we also need to talk about rest time. If you have the possibility, you might want to do something different for 10 minutes every hour. Even though we may not be able to take a break every time, if we do the administrative tasks or go to another part of factory for raw materials or simply go out to the toilet, we can break the routine a bit and relax the loaded body parts.
It is worth to mentioning the above described ergonomics topics and tricks on the HSE training as it is the common interest of the company and the employee to remain healthy. And if employees have any questions or comments on any HSE issue, they can freely contact their elected safety representative any time who is duly authorized to refer issues to management and to represent the position of the employees. (You can read more about the role of safety representatives here.)