A peek into Goodyear’s ergonomic sandbox

An inside view of the ergonomic strides that one international manufacturer is making in its plants and warehouses.

As the vision of a fully ergonomic warehouse or DC comes into clearer view, an increasing number of companies are putting time, money and effort into decreasing the number of musculoskeletal injuries that impact their workers’ backs, knees and upper extremities. In many cases, such accidents are caused when individuals handle materials, apply force, adopt unusual postures, and/or endure long work hours with few or no breaks.

Defined as the science of fitting jobs to the individuals who work in those positions, workplace ergonomics help reduce the level of physical stress that’s placed on workers’ bodies and the negatives impacts of those stressors (i.e., tendonitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, and so forth). By focusing specifically on the work environment plus the various components that comprise it (workstations, controls, tools and lighting, to name just a few), ergonomics ensure that the surroundings truly do match the individual employee and his or her physical traits, capabilities and even limitations.

At Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company of Akron, Ohio, workplace ergonomics and safety go hand in hand. With 51 plants operating in 22 countries, Goodyear stands as one of the world’s largest tire companies, with operations in most regions of the world. Together with its subsidiaries and joint ventures, Goodyear develops, markets and sells tires for most applications. Two years ago, the company rolled out a new ergonomics program at its Fayetteville, N.C., plant, where a “push, pull, lift” campaign was put into place.
Glenn Washington, ergonomics coordinator; Mike Welsh, plant health and safety manager; Frank Murray, on-site physical therapist; and Eldon Fink, director of health, safety and environment, talked to Modern about the initiative and the strides that Goodyear is making in its effort to develop and run ergonomic workplaces.

Modern:  What was the “before” picture at Goodyear’s Fayetteville plant that prompted the company to implement an ergonomic initiative in its warehouse/DC?
In the fourth quarter of 2013, the safety team at Goodyear’s Fayetteville plant, led by Washington and Welsh, was instituting a “push, pull, lift” campaign. Geared toward educating hourly associates on how to use best ergonomic practices to perform pushing, pulling and lifting motions while on the job, this campaign had several unique components.

First, the natural working environment (e.g. the plant floor) was used for demonstrations on how to best execute tasks while implementing the proper ergonomic techniques. A second unique component is the demonstrator. Volunteers from the hourly workforce stepped forward to act as safety coaches—individuals who spent dedicated time with Washington and Murray, each of whom showed each volunteer how to use ergonomic best practices while on the job. The team took pictures of proper and improper techniques, and safety coaches were empowered to make “in the moment” corrections of colleagues using push, pull and lift motions.

Modern:  What were the results of the campaign?
  The campaign was considered a great success as teams stayed engaged and involved in the process throughout the three months that it ran. The result was an 80% improvement in ergonomic form, which we attribute to colleagues’ ownership of the program and leadership empowering the change. Associates recognized the contributions that this type of training made to their wellbeing, and the need for a hands-on training area became apparent. Thus, the concept of the ergonomics sandbox was born.

The ergonomics sandbox in Fayetteville now features several hands-on training modules, which were developed at little to no cost to the plant. For example, a lever with a 45-pound spool of fabric attached to the opposite end is used to show how keeping weight close to the body when lifting is a less strenuous, ergonomically beneficial way to lift heavy loads. Similar exercises involving mock pieces of machinery are also available for associates to use in hands-on training.

Modern:  What else can you tell us about how the initiative was rolled out and the various tools or strategies that were incorporated?
The ergonomics sandbox started as space on the manufacturing floor that was sectioned off for hands-on training. At first, the space was sanctioned for use by the tire assembly associates. (Tire assembly is one of five business centers within the manufacturing facility where various tire components come together to make the tire. Once assembled, the tire is sent to a curing press where the rubber is molded with a tread pattern, and the rubber is cured.) After three weeks of training, other business centers were asking for the opportunity to include training for their associates within the ergonomics sandbox.

Modern:  Has the initiative expanded or grown since inception?
  As demand grew, the need to keep the sandbox relevant grew as well. Since its inception, other hands-on training modules have been placed in the sandbox for the purpose of replicating ergonomic movements that are conducted when working on a machine. The increased visibility of this type of training also heightened associate demand, leading to the addition of ergonomics training for all new hires. Currently, the plant is working to provide ergonomics sandbox training across its approximately 2,000-person workforce.

Modern:  How did workers respond to this initiative?
  The concept of hands-on training that provided knowledge easily transferrable to daily tasks created a groundswell of attention. Associate engagement in the process was bolstered by the presence of safety coaches—associates who volunteered their time to participate in in-depth training, which they then used to help train others. These individuals used their credibility with colleagues to drive change and wellness on the plant floor. To date, there are more than 90 safety coaches—a team comprised of associates from all four shifts.

Modern:  Can you talk about your on-site physical therapist and his role in the project?
  Assisting the safety coaches was Murray, a physical therapist who also owns his own company, Industrial Motions Inc. He and a physical therapist’s assistant are available throughout the week, both day and evening, to provide training to any associate who may be interested. Murray has taken training a step further, by conducting one-on-one sessions with associates at their machines, analyzing their movements and providing real-time feedback on how to improve.
As we continue to identify ways to improve associates’ safety and physical health while on the job, it became apparent that visible, hands-on training would be key to associate engagement in the sandbox. Metrics were put in place to measure the effectiveness of this strategy, which resulted in overwhelmingly positive feedback.

Modern:  Were Goodyear’s goals met?
In the recent past, Goodyear implemented a plant optimization initiative that focuses on holistically improving a plant’s performance through focus on several key areas, one of which is people and environmental care (PEC). The PEC team now holds meetings with Washington and Welsh during which they study certain tasks conducted on equipment and then conduct specialized training for hourly associates. Plant optimization is a process owned and instituted by Goodyear as a corporate initiative, however, plant associates have taken ownership of the process through their work in the ergonomics sandbox; in turn their involvement drives the plant optimization process within the plant. Lastly, associates continue to drive the process through their submission of new ideas or desired training requests to suggestion boxes located on the plant floor. Washington (who arrives at 5:30 a.m. every day to accommodate night shift workers) takes these ideas to the PEC team, and works with engineers to involve them in the generation of new ways to solve problems that are submitted.

Modern:  What role has the sandbox played in helping lower ergonomic risk?
The sandbox was fully developed by March 2014, with additions being made based on associate suggestions on a regular basis. Vendors and visitors to the plant were the source of encouragement for the plant to enter the project for recognition by external parties. This training center helps by acting as a visible reminder to Fayetteville associates on how to best conduct certain tasks or perform certain motions. Safety coaches, and Murray’s on-site support also provide opportunities for associates to seek out assistance in real time and to have ergonomic issues addressed quickly. When an associate heals from an injury, for example, and comes back to work at the plant, he or she is required to walk back through the sandbox before re-entering work. This helps to strengthen muscles that are used during their workday, and helps the individual to remember proper ergonomic techniques.

Modern:  What are the challenging aspects of this initiative? Was there anything you had to work through?
Bandwidth. As the training grew in popularity, the demand from each business center to have associates walk through the sandbox also grew. With speed being the name of the game, Murray and his team were challenged to conduct effective hands-on training, while still keeping group size small enough to keep all participants engaged in the process. The newest opportunity will be to have the roughly 2,000-associate workforce go through the training, as well as new hires. Additionally, the plant has extended the opportunity to contractors in the recent past.

Modern:  What benefits has Goodyear received from this initiative?
Through learning proper ergonomics techniques and controlling movements, plant associates have been able to reduce incidents, while seeing a simultaneous reduction in the severity of incidents that do occur. Other benefits attributed to the sandbox hands-on training include increased participation in ergonomics training, engagement in the training and associate ownership in transferring the knowledge they gain into their daily activities, and sharing of this knowledge with their colleagues. Associates have started to stop by on their own time, including coming in before shifts or staying after to participate in the training, or walk through a movement with the physical therapy staff. As skill has increased, enthusiasm has become apparent, and suggestions continue to roll in for expansion of the sandbox.

Modern:  What advice would you offer another company that wants to roll out this type of initiative in its own facility?
  Seeing is believing, so engage people in a visible hands-on process, says Fink. When people had the opportunity to experience training in a tactical way, they were more likely to take ownership of the process, and advocate for it with their colleagues. Keep training classes small so all participants have the opportunity to understand, learn and remember. Capitalizing on that sentiment, Washington emphasized using associates as advocates. Target jobs that involve significant ergonomic strain and provide guided training to associates on those jobs. This will result in immediate return on investment, and you can see the improvement almost equally as fast.

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About the Author

Bridget McCrea's avatar
Bridget McCrea
Bridget McCrea is an Editor at Large for Modern Materials Handling and a Contributing Editor for Logistics Management based in Clearwater, Fla. She has covered the transportation and supply chain space since 1996 and has covered all aspects of the industry for Modern Materials Handling, Logistics Management and Supply Chain Management Review. She can be reached at [email protected] , or on Twitter @BridgetMcCrea
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