[Facility] Safety First
August 08, 2019
by Stephen Gibson
Ergonomics and Safety should be one of the top priorities of any company. Most companies say, “Safety is our top priority” or “Our employees are our number 1 asset.” These are great sayings, but not all companies live up to these lofty goals. Some companies take this seriously and have astounding safety records to show for it.
One way to accomplish this is through job safety analysis. The first Fundamental Canon of the Professional Engineer Code of Ethics is “Hold paramount the safety, health, and welfare of the public.” For Industrial Systems Engineers, part of this responsibility is to the employees who will be working the processes they design. Thousands of employees are injured every year on the job including those whose injuries you see immediately and those whose injuries accumulate over time like carpal tunnel syndrome. According to nsc.org, over 30% of workplace injuries which result in lost workdays are the result of overexertion such as repetitive motions, lifting, and lowering objects (https://www.nsc.org/work-safety/tools-resources/infographics/workplace-injuries). As society gets more litigious, these injuries can also impose a financial risk to the company as well as physical risk to the employee. Many workplace injuries are often avoidable with a properly designed workplace and a well-defined process. To fill this need, many times companies will seek out a person with a “Safety” or “Ergonomics” certification. While these skills can be helpful, a professional Industrial Systems Engineer has demonstrated knowledge and skill to help reduce these risks; they are licensed by the government to ensure processes and they design workstations that are properly designed for worker safety.
I. C. Thomasson Associates has a Professional Industrial Systems Engineer (ISE) on staff with experience in this field. Companies should review job requirements to ensure expectations are reasonable and safe for employees. One means to document this evaluation has been completed is through Job Safety Analysis (JSA). Our ISE completed these for one of the largest distribution centers in the Middle Tennessee region documenting every job function. He conducted studies evaluating physical and mental requirements for each function. This entailed observing each job function’s work environment as well as reviewing time study data and collecting data on typical weights handled. From this data, he was able to analyze and determine the risk factors associated with each function and make recommendations on how to best overcome any risks found. Knowing this information provided a basis for the organization to help injured employees, whether injured on or off the job, return to work faster by identifying positions that met their limitations. In addition, potential employees with certain disabilities or limitations were more accessible to the company as they were able to quickly identify positions where this person could provide value-added work to the organization.
Safety is Invaluable
Given market conditions and challenges associated with finding employees that many companies face in the Middle Tennessee area, this opened the potential to a broader workforce which would have been otherwise inaccessible to the business. Having this documentation available also provided additional documentation when considering potential automation and discussing worker expectations. While it's challenging to provide hard dollar savings, the study provided many intangible benefits to the company and helped facilitate discussions on improved worker safety.