Ergonomics is unregulated for companies in the USA, while in the EU it is mandated by law. This has led to a vertical positioning market with two different approaches. We took the opportunity to learn more from one of the global experts in heavy lifting, Jim Galante, Chairman of the EASE Council, USA.
The USA and Europe differ fundamentally in their regulatory approaches to vertical positioning. In the USA, lift technology and ergonomics are unregulated, and decided for themselves by individual companies. Europe, by contrast, is regulated by the directive on Safety Requirements for Lifting Tables (now EN 1570-1:2011+A1:2014). Jihab, incidentally, was one of the key players in developing the EN standard.
Jim Galante explains here how things are now – and what the future holds – given that two different views of industrial ergonomics.
Jim emphasizes that despite the regulatory differences, there is one major similarity between the USA and Europe: everything starts with the worker. “The primary focus is always on safety, and reducing physical stress” he observes. “In the USA, we then find that conversations move quickly onto hard facts. Fortunately, we have accumulated excellent data showing how quickly an effective lifting solution improve the workplace and enhance productivity, which generates cash.”
Every employer is aware of the costs associated with injured workers – conservatively estimated at $25,000 per incident – but thinking beyond injuries, not all are aware of how poor ergonomics constantly saps productivity and increases fatigue. “As just one example, workers used to put positioners or other lifting equipment under the product pallet. It is now more commonly known that reaching far out in front is probably worse than bending. This means more turntables are being used to bring the work in closer to the body.”
Meeting the demographic challenge
Employers must also keep an eye on changing demographics. It is increasingly difficult to recruit fit, young people to fill jobs they may regard as unglamorous. Older workers (age +55) are projected to make up approximately 26% of the manufacturing labor force by the year 2022, compared with 21% in 2012 and 14% in 2002, according to a report by the Society of Human Resource Management. “To make the most profitable use of older workers’ skills, employers must think hard about making ergonomic improvements,” says Jim.
He mentions Xerox Corp. as one successful business that has emphasized the importance of ergonomics in improving the health and safety of older workers. “They have stated clearly that ergonomic enhancements such as tilt tables, lifts, and hoists not only make it easier for employees to maneuver parts and equipment during assembly, but significantly improve productivity.”
“Obesity, too, is rapidly increasing, and with it the risk of injury at work,” says Jim. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have established that overweight and obese workers are 25-68% more likely to be injured at work, compared with normal, healthy weight workers.
“When you consider that a third of people waiting for jobs are obese, and many are age +55, employers face a perfect storm of competitive pressures and a vulnerable workforce. The arguments for better ergonomics are unanswerable.”
Logistics at the heart of lean manufacturing
The two approaches to ergonomics – regulated and voluntary – appear to be converging, driven by health, safety and hard cash. “In the future, ergonomics will be used increasingly to reduce unnecessary motion. And that, of course, is one of the critical wastes identified by Taiichi Ohno, the father of lean manufacturing,” says Jim. “So using lifts, turntables, platforms, and other equipment to reduce the distance between employees and their work can improve efficiency and productivity as well as safety.
Learn more: www.mhi.org/ease
About Jim Galante
Jim is Chairman of the MHI’s (Material Handling Industry) EASE Council, which is devoted to ergonomic assist systems and equipment. He was largely responsible for and was a principal editor of the Ergonomic Guidelines for Manual Material Handling. He is a major contributor to industry publications such as Modern Material Handling, Material Handling Management, Overhead Crane and Hoist, Occupational Health & Safety, and others.