ASSE: Ergonomics at Goodyear

After eliminating more than 3,600 ergonomic risks at its facilities, Akron, Ohio-based Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. has learned some valuable lessons. Among those lessons, in the words of consultant Walter Rostykus, CSP, CIH, CPE, vice president of Ann Arbor, Mich.-based Humantech Inc.: “We found that about 80 percent of the [ergonomic] problems could be solved with very low-cost, simple solutions.”

Rostykus, who helped Goodyear develop its global ergonomic improvement process, and Michael Porter, CIH, CSP, who is the director of global health, safety and chemical material management for Goodyear, detailed Goodyear's strategies, successes and lessons learned at a June 23 session of the 2007 American Society of Safety Engineers' (ASSE) Professional Development Conference in Orlando, Fla.

The duo emphasized that, at its core, an ergonomic improvement process requires making physical changes to the work environment.

“[T]he ultimate goal of this process is to change the workplace so that it better fits the people and improves their ability to work safely and productively,” Rostykus said.

To make modifications to the physical work environment, Porter said, EHS professionals need the cooperation of engineers, maintenance personnel and plant-level employees. Making such changes – for example, cutting away part of a work surface to minimize reaching, or reducing the weight of objects lifted to minimize back strain – not only helps eliminate awkward body postures and other causes of strains and sprains but also generates momentum for your ergonomics process.

“If you want to see people on the floor get excited, change their work environment today,” Porter said.

It's Not Always Easy

Since implementing its ergonomics improvement process at 14 pilot sites in the United States and Europe, Goodyear has learned a number of other lessons. Among them:

  • It's not always easy. Deploying a global process – Goodyear has 75,000 employees in 28 countries – requires, among other things, overcoming culture and language barriers.
  • Make sure the right stakeholders are involved. For Goodyear, those stakeholders include personnel from engineering, continuous improvement, lean manufacturing, safety, management and labor. Goodyear has found that it's wise to partner with both management and labor at the plant level.
  • Have a common goal. For Goodyear, the goal for all plants is that all job tasks will be reduced to a low level of ergonomic risk or to no level of ergonomic risk as measured by a valid, quantifiable risk assessment tool.
  • Ergonomics must be a process (not a program), and it must be integrated into existing continuous improvement systems. “I can't stress that enough,” Porter said. “You have to link with your [continuous improvement] teams. It's the fastest way and the best way to get it integrated into your facilities.”
  • Planning is required before implementation and must link and align to a global strategic plan.
  • Clearly define roles of senior managers, plant leaders, floor employees, EHS, etc., before beginning the process.
  • To sustain the process, ensure that there is regular tracking and review of risk measures; ensure that there is good communication of progress and improvement; establish internal expertise; and integrate with existing processes and practices.

Since implementing the ergonomic strategy at 10 pilot sites in the United States and four sites in Europe – nine sites in Europe are launching the process this year – Goodyear has reduced its global total OSHA incident rate by 33 percent, with regional improvements ranging from 17 percent to 56 percent.

Porter added that the 14 pilot sites in the United States and Europe have experienced a 47 percent reduction in strains and sprains.

“So that tells us the process is working,” Porter said. “It tells us that we have a model that we need to continue to work on and build on because it will help us in reducing injuries in the workplace, particularly musculoskeletal.”

A Partner Can Help

Goodyear's current ergonomic improvement process dates back to late 2004, when EHS executives challenged Goodyear to improve its safety performance. Although the company's safety record was the best in its industry, 27 percent of Goodyear's injuries were strains and sprains – the result of pushing, pulling, lifting, twisting and bending. In Goodyear's U.S. facilities, 50 percent of injuries were strains and sprains.

Porter noted that early in the process of developing a global ergonomic strategy, Goodyear “realized that we couldn't do this ourselves.” That's why the company enlisted the aid of Ann Arbor, Mich.-based consulting firm Humantech Inc.

“We understood ergonomics, just like all of you in this room understood it, but we didn't have the skill set or the knowledge to take it to a process, and that's why we partnered with Humantech and they helped us get there,” Porter said.

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