Article in Hoist magazine by Jim Galante 3 April 2009. Suggests there are "double dividends of integrating lean thinking and ergonomics."
Managers today face more challenges than ever before. They are being told to cut costs whilst maintaining or even increasing production rates; and maintaining quality. Staffing levels are being reduced, and so there is the need to "do more with less."
There are further issues when you consider "the American workforce is aging and many of the next generation of workers are looking more toward white collar jobs."
Many think good applied ergonomics can help. Whereas in the past it seen as “a nice thing to do” because it made the worker’s job easier and making them happier, the benefits of improved quality and productivity; and reduced possibility of injuries are being recognised. "Ergonomics today has become an essential and fundamental part of a well run business."
According to Galante, ergonomics can play a significant role in achieving the goals of lean thinking. "Improving productivity by reducing or even eliminating waste is a core lean value. Good ergonomics eliminates excessive body motions and limits the number of repetitions in most work tasks. Good ergonomics will reduce mistakes and will improve quality - more lean values."
Galante references the Ergonomic Guidelines for Manual Material Handling, published by the EASE Council. This considers four applications in which lean thinking and ergonomic principles are related and essential to creating effective, sustainable programmes. They are:
1 Removing waste - Removing wasted, unnecessary motion can have a significant positive impact on systems and processes as well as decrease lead times and inventory, increase quality and substantially increase productivity.
2 Flexible processes - Understanding the whole organisational system requires all business processes to be flexible. This will significantly aid a company’s ability to respond to changes which are occurring in the marketplace. This can be flexibility in set-up/change-over, the type of assist device, inventory controls or linkages (transporting or storing materials).
3 The negative impacts of fatigue - Ergonomic assist devices can dramatically reduce or even eliminate the forces required to perform a task as well as reduce the associated reaching, bending or stretching. They will reduce fatigue and stress that would be experienced by the worker. These symptoms are often a precursor to a lost time injury.
4 The needs of the office and the service sector - By focusing on strategic placement of parts, products, tools and equipment and reviewing the layout of the work area, human stress and ergonomic related injuries can be reduced. The white paper discusses these changes and presents practical solutions and improvements.
The bottom line
In today’s demanding work environment companies need to take every advantage and a good ergonomics programme compliments a good lean initiative. The two together with all their tools, techniques, and philosophies will prove to be vital contributors to success both in the short- and long-term.
About the author
James J. Galante is the chairman of the EASE Council. Ergonomic Assist Systems and Equipment (EASE) is the resource for trends, information, practices, equipment, and organisations that focus on ergonomics and improving the working interface between people and the materials they must move and use to reduce injury, increase productivity while providing a significant return on investment. Visit the EASE website for these many resources at www.mhia.org/ease.