Let’s talk SAFETY!
You may not know this, but your truly is going to be presenting on some of the ways that technology is improving safety in manufacturing in a few months. As a part of that I have been digging into how our different solutions intersect with safety, and well, no research left behind friends. Prepare for a barrage of safety blogs.
When someone starts talking safety does your mind spin off to do the Safety Dance? Just me? Well, okay.
I think it is pretty common knowledge that safety and ergonomics play crucial roles in ensuring the well-being of workers, preventing workplace accidents, and improving overall productivity in manufacturing environments.
Today I am focusing on line work since it is a big component of manufacturing. It is what you think of when you think factory, involving tasks that are performed sequentially along an assembly or production line. These tasks often include repetitive motions, lifting and carrying heavy objects, working with tools and machinery, and maintaining a fast pace of work. This type of work can lead to various ergonomic and safety challenges for employees. To address this, manufacturers have historically looked to ergonomics and automation for solutions.
Ergonomics in line work focuses on designing workstations, tools, and processes that fit the capabilities and limitations of workers. The goal is reducing physical strain, fatigue, and the risk of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs).
Some common ergonomic issues in line work and their corresponding mitigation measures are:
Performing the same motion repeatedly strains muscles and joints, leading to MSDs. Employers address this by introducing job rotation or task variation, providing adequate breaks, and ensuring workers have proper training on ergonomically sound work techniques.
Lifting and Carrying:
Manual handling of heavy objects results in injuries such as strains and sprains. Employers can implement mechanical aids like lift-assist devices, conveyors, or adjustable-height workstations to minimize the need for manual lifting. Additionally, training workers in proper lifting techniques and encouraging teamwork for heavy lifting tasks helps reduce the risks.
Working in awkward positions, such as bending, stooping, or reaching overhead for extended periods, leads to discomfort and injury. Employers can modify workstations to allow for better posture, provide seating or standing options, and use assistive tools like lift tables or ergonomic reach aids.
Operating vibrating tools or machinery can contribute to hand-arm vibration syndrome (HAVS). Employers can minimize vibration exposure by providing anti-vibration gloves, implementing regular tool maintenance and calibration, and considering the use of vibration-damping materials or tools.
Noise and Hearing Protection:
Manufacturing environments often have high noise levels, which causes hearing loss. Employers can mitigate this by implementing engineering controls, like enclosing noisy machinery, using sound-absorbing materials, and providing appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) like earplugs.
Safety Training and Awareness:
To ensure a safe working environment, employers should provide comprehensive safety training programs to educate employees about potential hazards, safe work practices, proper use of PPE, and emergency procedures.
It’s important for employers to conduct regular ergonomic assessments, involve workers in the process, and make necessary modifications to improve the ergonomics of line work. By addressing these issues, companies can enhance worker well-being, reduce absenteeism and injury rates, and improve overall productivity.
But we all know that ergonomic assessments aren’t always enough.
That’s where advancements in technology and automation come in to play. I am not really going to focus on “old tech” here, because frankly I talk about conveyors a lot. So on to some of the newer stuff that I don’t talk about often, like exoskeletons!
Exoskeletons are wearable devices designed to support and augment the human body’s movements. They help reduce the physical strain on workers by providing additional support to muscles and joints during repetitive or strenuous tasks. Exoskeletons are particularly useful in tasks that involve heavy lifting or overhead work. They improve worker endurance, reduce fatigue, and lower the risk of injuries. However, it’s important to note that the effectiveness of exoskeletons can vary depending on the specific task and individual worker needs.
We actually carry a pretty sweet exoskeleton from our friends at Comau. It looks ridiculous upon first glance, but putting it on for the first time and feeling the difference even just holding my arms above my head made me a believer QUICK. If you want a demo, we do have a unit that we can send out for you to try in your facility.
Automation and Robotics:
I will go into this more in a later post, but the implementation of automation and robotics technology obviously helps reduce the physical demands on workers. This includes the use of robots for heavy lifting, automated material handling systems (like cobot palletizers and PALOMAT pallet stackers), and robot or cobot assembly lines. Implementing things like AGVs and mobile robots contributes to workplace safety by reducing forklift accidents. By reducing the need for manual labor in certain tasks, automation minimizes ergonomic risks and frees up workers to focus on more complex or value-added activities.
Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR):
VR and AR technologies are utilized for training purposes to simulate work environments. This allows workers to practice tasks and identify potential ergonomic issues in a virtual setting. They can also be used for ergonomic design and evaluation, enabling engineers to assess the ergonomics of workstations and processes before implementation.
Sensors and Wearable Technology:
Various sensors and wearable devices are employed to monitor and collect data on worker movements, posture, and physical stress. Analyze this information to identify potential ergonomic risks and implement targeted interventions. Wearable technologies like smart glasses or smartwatches provide real-time feedback and reminders to workers about their posture or safe work practices.
Even my mom’s Samsung watch does this. (Calm down Bixby, we do not need to deescalate the situation, we are just brainstorming sometimes!) So, I guess some of that data may need to be looked at with more discernment.
Improvements in technology contribute to improving ergonomics and safety in manufacturing. As automation advances I anticipate seeing ever safer and more rewarding work environments. To paraphrase Joe Campbell from Universal Robots, let’s get rid of the dull, dirty, and dangerous tasks in manufacturing!