Five tips for preventing material handling injuries
Improving material handling can reduce costs associated with workplace injuries and labor turnover.
Ergonomic hazards can put workers at risk in a factory and negatively impact society as a whole. These hazards include forceful and repetitive motions, poor posture, stationary positions, excessive vibrations, extreme temperatures and improper lighting.
Ergonomic hazards are the leading cause of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). According to ErgoPlus, MSDs account for almost 400,000 injuries annually, with a direct cost of $20 billion. In addition, indirect costs can be five times the direct costs.
Factories should implement ergonomic solutions to minimize material handling injuries. Though material handling is a labor-intensive process, it is possible to create a more ergonomic environment for manual material handling.
Here are five important ergonomic tips for preventing material handling injuries.
1. Invest in the right material handling equipment
Manual material handling is laborious, time-consuming, risky and can be hard on the human body. However, using the right material handling equipment can help in reducing injuries and ensuring the safety of workers.
Providing the right equipment transporting materials plays a crucial role in minimizing forceful exertions like lifting and carrying heavy loads.
Factories can use forklifts, automated guided vehicles and conveyor belts to move materials rather than having workers carry them manually. Such equipment will help you minimize material handing injuries and increase productivity and profitability.
Assembly carts make material handling in an assembly line easier and more ergonomic. These assembly carts are available in different designs for various applications. A facility can choose an ergonomic cart that will create a better material handling flow and a safer environment. (See Figure 1.)
Material handling equipment also includes storage equipment, such as pallets, shelves and racks. Bulk storage equipment includes drums, trucks, silos and grain elevators. A facility should provide the right storage equipment depending on the type of materials it handles.
2. Use of personal protective equipment (PPE)
Providing the right protection equipment to factory workers will significantly minimize injuries associated with material handling. Basic PPE includes helmets, eye protection, gloves, safety boots, earplugs or muffs, respirators and plastic or metal fiber guards.
It is vital to design and construct safe PPE. The factory should carefully select and maintain the PPE reliably and cleanly. In addition, it should be comfortable, encouraging workers to wear it.
But, safety does not end with the provision of PPE. Factories must ensure that workers are using their protective equipment. However, it is pretty common to find workers who are not wearing the necessary PPE, even though the company has provided it. What does someone do in such a case?
Workers should understand the role of PPE in minimizing exposure to hazards that cause workplace illnesses and injuries. If workers do not use the PPE provided, the company should design and implement a PPE program.
The program addresses the hazards present, training employees on PPE use and monitoring the program to ensure its effectiveness.
3. Workplace layout improvements
Workplace layout is one of the engineering controls that determine the efficiency and safety of workers. The design and layout of a facility will determine what equipment will be used and the flow of materials and workers.
Layout planning involves deciding the most efficient arrangement of all resources that need space in a facility. However, the design should have safety as a top priority and consider ergonomics. It includes work centers, equipment, storage, desks, cabinets and machinery.
A poor design and layout can be costly. It can result in wasted space, energy and time. Worst of all, a poor layout can increase the hazards in the facility.
The design and layout must incorporate safety principles that reduce the risk of injury. When designing the area, people should consider:
The intended purpose of the work area.
Choice of constructions techniques and maintenance operations.
Materials to be used.
Standards and codes to be complied with.
Furthermore, each working area should apply the ergonomic principles best suited to the tasks. Placing and picking areas, packing areas, receiving and shipping areas have different needs. Standing and seated workstations should have the appropriate workplace layout to prevent strain and sprain.
4. Proper workplace and administrative controls
Firmly understanding the hierarchy of controls and where a safety program falls can significantly reduce the likelihood of injuries in the factory. Administrative controls are essential in every safety program since they establish the procedures that reduce the risk of injury.
Job rotation is a vital administrative control. It is a structured interchange between various tasks that ensure workers rotate between different jobs and workstations at certain time intervals.
Job rotation enlarges the physical demands of a worker by increasing the variety of tasks. Varying the number of tasks, especially for repetitive tasks, avoids boredom and distraction, which can result in injuries. It makes workers more attentive.
Fatigue and physical weariness are common occurrences in material handling tasks.
Regardless of the ergonomic procedures and tools in place, manual tasks can take a toll on workers. Cumulative fatigue can lead to MSDs and other injuries. Therefore, managers must respond to employee fatigue by issuing regular breaks.
Pre-shift warm-up exercises and stretch breaks promote a safe, healthy and team culture. These exercises make workers physically ready and can reduce the risk of musculoskeletal injuries and improve muscular coordination, balance and posture.
5. Workplace safety training to prevent material handling injuries
According to the Safety Association for Employers, one out of 10 small factories employees in the U.S. feels that their employers don’t take occupational safety seriously. Furthermore, 17% of workers in small factories don’t receive health and safety training.
One of the key aims of safety training is not only to comply with regulations but also to prevent workplace accidents and injuries. Safety training involves providing workers with the necessary knowledge of working safely, using PPEs, performing safety audits and responding in certain situations.
Material handling involves a lot of lifting and movements. Therefore, educating workers on proper lifting and handling techniques should be the key objective of a safety training program.
These workers make decisions that affect their work and take a toll on their bodies every moment. When loads exceed certain weight limits, workplace athletes should perform a team lift.
A proactive safety strategy involves identifying early signs of fatigue or injuries and initiating early intervention. Employers should train employees in identifying the early signs of MSDs and encourage them to report and seek early treatment.
These ergonomic tips are crucial in preventing material handling injuries, especially MSDs. A factory will also benefit by significantly reducing the costs associated with workplace injuries and labor turnover.
Improving the health and safety of employees enhances their morale and productivity. Employees will perform their duties with less danger and difficulty. They appreciate the improvement in their work environment and ultimately add to overall profitability.