Introducing the upcoming eBook by Saturn Ergonomics Consulting, Seven Reasons Your Ergonomics Process May Underperform . . . and what to do about it. This book shares practical insights, advice, and strategies on how to establish & maintain an effective ergonomics process. Whether you call it a process or program, that's irrelevant. What matters is getting results! This eBook will teach you the approaches I have used over my career to get results applying ergonomics.
Be sure to subscribe to the website (on Home or Blog page). All subscribers prior to the release of the book will receive an electronic copy of the eBook, absolutely FREE!
Background on how I learned to apply ergonomics . . .
A couple of weeks after completing my masters degree in industrial engineering in 1993, I made the decision to pursue a career in ergonomics. After ZERO job offers, I suddenly had 3 offers at once. I accepted a 6-month, temporary (and lower paying) ergonomics position over 2 full-time (better paying) industrial engineering jobs. It was a difficult decision, but one I've never regretted.
I basically began my ergonomics career out on the plant floor, applying ergonomics. I worked with supervisors, engineers, hourly employees, and maintenance employees solving real problems. I wasn't provided a secluded office space. I shared a small (noisy) office with 5-6 Shipping & Receiving employees; even sharing a computer with 2-3 of them. I spent much of my time out on the plant floor. Looking back, it was ideal scenario to learn how to apply ergonomics.
My task in this first job was to implement a plant-level ergonomics program to combat a rash of ergonomic-related injuries & associated costs at Torrington's Elberton, GA location. My boss and co-workers knew little, if anything, about ergonomics. I was provided no plan or road map. It was up to me to figure this out.
I began with a lot of enthusiasm, but was slow to get results. In college I had been taught various ergo evaluation techniques. So I tried my hand evaluating jobs. I had run across a new ergo risk assessment tool, so I completed risk assessments for several jobs. Ever heard of paralysis by analysis? That was me! All analysis, no results! To make matters worse, the hourly employees and Supervisors seemed a bit skeptical about what I was doing . . . constantly looking at my notebook, writing things down.
One day after a couple of months into the job, I was out on the plant floor and the Plant Manager caught up with me. He asked me how things were going. I told him good (I thought). I told him about the risk assessments & analysis I had completed. He was unimpressed. He asked how many solutions I had implemented. I told him none. He then (politely, but firmly) told me that unless he saw some results, he might only be able to keep me on for another month or two (Note, I had moved to Elberton, GA planning to work 6 months - signing a 6-month apartment lease. Yikes!).
The Plant Manager made it abundantly clear that analysis did not equate to solutions. Without solutions the ergonomic-related problems would not get resolved . . . and the work-related injuries would continue to mount. He took me back to his office and showed me a thick, hard-copy report from an earlier ergonomics project (I even recognized the name of the consulting firm). He told me that this report was all analysis, and offered no practical solutions. He obvious wasn't interested in analysis, but he did expect me to implement solutions, and get results . . . IMMEDIATELY!
Needless to say, I got the message and quickly went into solution implementation overdrive. Beginning with my observations and what I had already learned communicating with the employees who performed the jobs, I identified a handful of low-hanging fruit solution opportunities. I also made inroads with helpful second shift supervisors & maintenance employees willing to fabricate fixtures, stands, and various homemade tools & apparatuses. For a particular task requiring heavy lifting, we purchased a powered lift device; but most solutions were of the low cost, in-house variety. And after just a few weeks I had implemented a number of solutions. The Plant Manager perked up when I reported that we had some working solutions. He asked me to generate a spreadsheet listing these solutions, the cost, summary of benefit, etc. He presented this information at an intracompany Plant Manager's Safety meeting in order to share the progress with the rest of Torrington's 14 locations.
Ergonomics began taking hold at Elberton. I still remember how I would sometimes be out on the plant floor, or walking through the engineering cubicles, and overhear people talking about certain ergonomic-related issues (things difficult, uncomfortable, that needed improving, etc.), and even discussing potential solutions. Looking back, I was learning ergonomics by applying ergonomics, and so were they.
Gradually, engineers saw that I provided value and began to peppering me with design-related questions: How much force is ok for this? How many times can an employee do this?, etc. I learned a lot about ergonomics design simply by answering these design-related questions. Engineers began including me in their design review meetings. One engineer even gave me the nickname "Ergo" (unfortunately it stuck).
I eventually conducted employee ergonomics awareness training for all employees, and this led to more employee-driven solutions. Now employees would frequently stop me out in the plant and share their ideas (solutions to improve their job).
I learned some valuable lessons about applying ergonomics during this first job. I stumbled upon the importance of the 80-20 Rule, or Power Law. I pulled together a summary of accident data (requested by Plant Manager) and this revealed that the majority of losses were in 2 areas. It seemed logical to focus my efforts in these areas. After several unsuccessful solution attempts in the most problematic area (implementing the obvious, off-the-shelf type solutions), I realized that one specific task in that area was the primary culprit. While using a utility knife to trim plastic flashing from a part, employees would hold the part in their non-dominant hand using a static hand grip. Thinking of a solution, I sketched out a fixture design. The supervisor welded a fixture during second shift. It worked ok, but still had some issues. I modified the design sketch, and by the next day the supervisor had modified the fixture. Employees were much more receptive of this second fixture design; but it could be improved. Then we created a third design. They REALLY liked the third fixture design. They went from being skeptical of the solution initially, to now demanding a fixture for every station. This was a winner solution.
This project was the 80-20 Rule in action. A subset of all areas (or jobs) usually present the lion's share of the problem. Then within that area, there are often individual task(s) responsible for the bulk of the ergonomic-related exposures. In the eBook I introduce a concept of 80-20 Ergonomics™. This is staying focused on the things that matter . . . the things that get results.
This project also taught me another lesson. Plan on multiple solution iterations (practice iterative solution design). The first version of your solution might need to be improved upon, and you may even need to go through a handful of design iterations. That's ok. You must expect and plan for this! I can't tell you the times I’ve visited a new plant, and the tour guide shows me failed solution after failed solution. Many of these solutions appear to be solid ideas, but may have been abandoned too early. The solutions may have worked using an iterative design approach. Often you can learn from the first design, and make the changes necessary to make the solution a winner.
After about 6 months on the job, the Plant Manger ran into me out on the plant floor. He told me that because of the progress the ergonomics effort was making (basically, because of all of the solutions that had been implemented) he would keep me on in my temporary position until I found a job. After 3 months I did find a job. A job became available within the company as a Corporate Ergonomics Engineer, responsible for implementing a company-wide ergonomics process. I landed the job and was soon off to the Corporate headquarters in Torrington, Connecticut. In my new job I served 14 manufacturing plants - continuing to learn how to apply ergonomics.
In summary, much of what I learned about ergonomics was by doing - by applying ergonomics. First as a plant & corporate level ergonomist, then later as a consultant working in over 150 companies. Everything I did wasn't always a success, and I learned a lot from my mistakes (I'll share some of these in the eBook). But I did learn how to consistently get results applying ergonomics.
I hope you read and enjoy this eBook (when released). I believe it will help you get better results applying ergonomics.
Again, all subscribers prior to the release of the book will receive an electronic copy, absolutely FREE! Be sure to subscribe to the website on the Home or Blog pages (only requires your email address).
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