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Ergonomics News – October 17, 2006

In This Newsletter:<br> 1. Color-Coded Job Rotations for Injury Prevention<br> 2. Survey Reveals Importance of Ergonomics to U.S. Workers<br> 3. OSHA Topics Page Makes the Business Case for Occupational Safety<br> 4. Safer Shiftwork Through More Effective Scheduling

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Ergonomics News – October 17, 2006

Welcome to Ergonomics News, a monthly electronic newsletter designed to help Ergonomists and Safety Managers find the right solutions to a host of ergonomic-related challenges - from manual material handling to office ergonomics. The newsletter will include a column written by a veteran ergonomist, plus several other articles linked to

In This Newsletter:

1. Color-Coded Job Rotations for Injury Prevention
2. Survey Reveals Importance of Ergonomics to U.S. Workers
3. OSHA Topics Page Makes the Business Case for Occupational Safety
4. Safer Shiftwork Through More Effective Scheduling

1. Color-Coded Job Rotations for Injury Prevention
by William H. Kincaid, P.E. CSP

Job rotations go hand in hand with ergonomics work. In some situations, we find it impossible to eliminate all job stresses through ergonomics, and turn to job rotations as a means of alternating stress and recovery periods to moderate injuries. We also may use job rotations to maintain cross-training proficiency. Color-coding can help make it easier to reliably implement job rotations.

Job rotations can reduce injuries when implemented in a disciplined and effective job rotation scheme. Disciplined means it reliably is carried out to its fullest practical extent by all employees involved in it. Effective means it takes employees from one type of stress to a different stress at each rotation interval, such as moving from a job that’s hard on the back to one that’s easy on the back but harder on the wrists.

A disciplined, effective job rotation doesn’t occur naturally. Production pressure leads supervisors to “fine tune” for maximum productivity by keeping people on the jobs they’re best at. If we tell them to rotate their crew, they might rotate only between similar jobs. This looks like a rotation to the casual observer but doesn’t accomplish much. Making the effectiveness observable makes it possible for managers to observe that it’s being accomplished. It should be as easy as possible to do it right and not so easy to make a mistake. Color-coding helps achieve these goals.

A plan for a successful color-coded rotation is to:

  1. Have jobs studied by someone with an eye for ergonomic stresses. I suggest having the evaluations done by a physical therapist. Many have done them before. Occupational therapy companies that have long-standing relationships with their valued clients might do the work free as a favor.

  2. Since we are trying to achieve a rotation that allows different stresses when people go from one workstation to another at each break, choose the main stress of each task. The trick is boiling a complicated job down into a single “main stress”. It can be done, but the process of choosing the main stress can be part science, part opinion and part guesswork. We should use a lot of input from operators in this process. They almost always have opinions as to the worst job in a cell and what’s most stressful about each job. We also should be ready to occasionally alter our classifications to reflect the main stress as closely as possible.

  3. Choose a color for each of the main stresses. For example, purple for heavy hand/wrist repetition and pinch grip; green for upper body stress; blue for lower back; etc. Color codes also can include a color for “balanced” or “neutral” jobs not dominated by a single stress. Based on the main stress of each job, assign a color to the workstation. Note: I don’t recommend yellow, orange or red in a color scheme unless there is a desire to make jobs coded with these colors seem hazardous. These colors are perceived as hazard symbols.

  4. Everyone changes color at each rotation interval. Rotate at every break for starters. When a job is particularly hard, we can rotate every hour or more often. We also can limit exposure for a tough job by giving it a unique color and controlling the total hours in that color. Decisions to shorten rotation periods or to limit total exposure can be based on overuse disorder symptoms, new job evaluations and employee feedback.

  5. Since it takes a while to learn some jobs, it can be necessary to “ramp” into a full rotation. We might start by rotating each person between only two jobs. Employees become more versatile and expand their rotation capabilities as proficiencies increase.

  6. A dry erase board can be used by the team leader/supervisor to assign jobs. There could be a color-coded row for every workstation, columns for each rotation segment in the shift and the names of each person written in. Although we’ve made rotating as simple as possible, the lead or supervisor must be accountable to make sure it’s done according to plan. There should be oversight now and then to verify.

A disciplined, effective job rotation spreads stresses around a group of employees and allows recovery time between stress intervals for specific body parts. Job rotations are worth doing right, and in a reliable manner. Color coding can be a way to accomplish a disciplined, effective job rotation.

Contributing Editor William Kincaid is vice president and senior loss control consultant for Lockton Companies Inc.

2. Survey Reveals Importance of Ergonomics to U.S. Workers

A new survey from office furniture manufacturer Steelcase examines the understanding of U.S. workers of ergonomics, its importance in the workplace and how it affects a worker's productivity and physical well-being.
Click HERE to read story.

3. OSHA Topics Page Makes the Business Case for Occupational Safety
OSHA has launched a new topics page on its Web site aimed at demonstrating that investment in workplace safety and health can help an employer save money and improve business.
Click HERE to read story.

4. Safer Shiftwork Through More Effective Scheduling
A new program from the Liberty Mutual Research Institute assesses worker injury rates based on work scheduling factors.
Click HERE to read story.

If you have any comments or feedback about the content or format of Ergonomics News, please share them with Editor Sandy Smith at [email protected]

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