Ergonomics: Many hands make light work and safe workers
January 01, 2013 - MMH Editorial
Ceradyne, a manufacturer of advanced technical ceramics, wanted to improve working conditions for its employees. With the help of a workplace ergonomics consulting firm (Humantech, humantech.com) the company was able to obtain management approval, train its employees in how to conduct risk assessments and downgrade high-risk jobs to low- or no-risk jobs. As a result, workers’ compensation costs have been reduced by 98% since 2010.
Prior to 2010, Ceradyne had spent millions of dollars addressing ergonomics injuries. “Our main issue was that we did not have a plan, structure, or approach for conducting ergonomics risk assessments,” says Tony Ewing, EHS director of the North American division.
Obtaining management approval to implement a program at all 12 North American sites was the first hurdle. After Ewing built the cost-justification case, he worked with the supplier to develop a strategy and a detailed plan.
The program was initially rolled out at the company’s larger plants. Each plant assembled a team of 10 to 12 employees, supervisors and maintenance leads. “I wanted to get employees involved, get them doing risk assessments, and give them the tools they needed to fix their jobs,” says Ewing.
The supplier trained the entire team over the course of a week. After being trained to identify risk postures, the teams noticed that some work tables were too high. A series of platforms raised workers to a more comfortable height, improving ergonomics and product quality. Workers had also been retrieving materials from the floor before lift and tilt tables were installed to reduce bending and twisting motions. Among the most strenuous tasks was the process of scooping material in 50- to 60-pound buckets, then manually carrying two at a time through tight corners of the facility before lifting and dumping them into a hopper.
“There were lots of opportunities for scrapes and strains,” said Ewing, who described the scissor lift-equipped carts that now transport the buckets. “One of the team members recommended a tipping device that empties buckets into the hopper, and it’s made a huge difference.”
Since 2010, Ceradyne’s recordable injuries have been reduced by 43%, white workers’ compensation claims and costs have dropped 51% and 98%, respectively. Ceradyne plans to roll out the program across all 12 of its North American plants.