AIHce 2010: Navigating Ergonomics Management Systems

May 26, 2010
In a roundtable presentation at AIHce 2010 in Denver, several EHS professionals outlined their challenges, successes, best practices and lessons learned in establishing and sustaining ergonomics management systems.

Jennifer Swaim, CIH, director of health, safety and environment at Genie Industries, which makes lifts, mobile asphalt plants, pavers and compact equipment, was quick to point out that her company is fairly new to ergonomics systems management. She explained that leadership had not even been aware of the company’s total recordable case rate until 2000, and put in place the first, basic elements of a safety system a year or two later. It was when new company leadership took over in 2002 that things really started to change.

“They wanted to have a workplace they were proud to talk about,” Swaim said of company leadership. “We make aerial lifts, and our whole purpose is to provide safety and productivity for workers. So how could we not do that for our workers?”

Genie partnered with Humantech to put ergonomics processes in place. The system is designed to start with what she calls rapid improvement events, which allow management teams and employees to see immediate changes through simple, low-cost solutions. The system also uses a technical guidance, an ergonomics process document, goal-setting reviews and more.

While Genie has met and even surpassed its injury rate goals for the last 5 years, Swaim acknowledged that the real challenge is keeping employees motivated.

“The maintaining part has required much more motivation and energy than the implementation did,” she said. “It requires a lot of personal coaching and time to avoid complacency [and] early celebration.”

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Goodrich Corp., which focuses on the aerospace and defense security markets, employs nearly 26,000 workers at 80 facilities in 17 countries. Over the years, Goodrich has acquired various smaller aerospace companies, which presented a challenge to the pursuit of a cohesive safety culture.

“Everyone has their legacy, their own EHS perspective, and a lot of their own values around EHS, so that’s really difficult when trying to be one global company,” said Tracy Beaudry, health and safety manger. “We’re one company but really operating as a lot of smaller companies – it’s a challenge.”

Beaudry said that about 60 percent of the injuries within the company’s North American locations can be attributed to ergonomics, and the cost distribution runs upward of 50 percent. “We recognize [we] can have the greatest safety programs in place, but if we’re not addressing ergonomic concerns, we’re not going to get any better,” she said.

In 2007, Goodrich embarked on a pilot ergonomics program for three facilities that she described as “the good, the bad, and the ugly.” In addition to improving the facilities that needed help, Beaudry said it also was important to ensure that the new program would fit with the facilities that already had established good ergonomics programs or policies.

The program also consists of cross-functional teams trained in industrial ergonomics, engineer support staff, site-specific macro-plan for ergonomic improvement activities (such as measurable goals and a management review), program implementation for cost sharing and more.

Following the pilot program’s success, Genie began rolling out the program to an average of about 10 facilities a year.

Picture This

When it comes to ergonomics, a picture could be worth a thousand words. According to Mark Stuhlman, CIH, an environment health and safety specialist with Hamilton Sundstrand, displaying a photograph of a worker completing an ergonomically challenging task can “very succinctly demonstrate to management that they have issues with their operations.”

For example, Stuhlman showed photographs of workers attempting to push a 1,200-pound tank or reaching up awkwardly to grasp part of a machine. Presenting photographic documentation of these risky tasks helped management understand the need to support and foster ergonomic improvements.

Hamilton Sundstrand worked to turn ergonomic challenges into success stories through training, making adjustments to work stations, creating a training video and more. Stuhlman stressed the need to focus on leading and positive metrics instead of lagging indicators and to document all positive outcomes of an ergonomic program, such as increased productivity, quality, employee satisfaction and a reduction in injury rates.

“When I look at a process, I see opportunities,” Stuhlman said. “As EHS professionals, [we have] opportunities to improve that process, from designing the process to tooling to products.”

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