SAFER HANDLING: Combining Multiple Equipment Types for Improved Ergonomics

* By Jean Feingold *

In the current tight labor market, facilities are seeking ways to streamline manual material handling (MMH) to increase productivity, reduce turnover and decrease injuries by adding equipment designed to improve ergonomics. To select the right equipment, it is necessary to view tasks holistically, examining the full series of movements needed to get the job done. That means it might take more than one piece of equipment to achieve the greatest ergonomic benefit.

“For example, look at a workstation and carefully examine what the worker does there,” said Jim Galante, director of business development at MHI member Southworth Products Corp. and chair of MHI’s EASE Council. “What is happening from the time the material gets there until it leaves?”

It is desirable to improve processes requiring repetitive motions or excessive force and those involving awkward postures like long reaches in front of or above and below the operator’s ergonomic window, noted Jason Williams, engineering manager for MHI member Unified Industries, Inc. and chair of MHI’s Monorail Manufacturers Association, Inc.

Imagine a workstation surrounded by two pallets where a worker repairs various devices ranging from cellphones to window air conditioners. The items to be repaired arrive on one pallet, are moved to the workbench for processing, and end up on the other pallet after repair completion. Using an adjustable height workbench makes it possible for the same workstation to be used for repairs to devices of several shapes, weights and sizes.

To help the worker move the large, heavy A/C units from the pallet onto the workbench, a lift table could be used to raise the pallet. If the worker lacks the upper body strength to pick up the unit, a jib crane mounted over the bench with either a small electric hoist, a balancer or a vacuum tube lifter can be used to place the unit onto the bench. Companies will decide which of these three options to buy based on price (with balancers likely being the least expensive), availability and which tool is most efficient for the task, Galante said.

Read More…