38 Great Ways Ergonomics Can Save Time and Money

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Supporting a world-class work force requires a world-class work environment — one that is safe, healthy, comfortable and productive. Adapting the workplace to meet these criteria and create working conditions that suit the worker is what the study of ergonomics is all about. Using ergonomic tools, equipment, work layouts and methods can cut remodeling firms' long-term costs by reducing in...

January 01, 2005

Using a handle to distribute weight evenly between both arms and eliminate bending can help reduce stress on the back.
Adding an extension to a drill allows for even pressure and less back pain.

Supporting a world-class work force requires a world-class work environment - one that is safe, healthy, comfortable and productive. Adapting the workplace to meet these criteria and create working conditions that suit the worker is what the study of ergonomics is all about.

Using ergonomic tools, equipment, work layouts and methods can cut remodeling firms' long-term costs by reducing injuries, lost workdays, and workers' compensation expenses, and by improving overall work efficiency and quality.

Work-related musculoskeletal disorders, or WMSDs, are the result of months and years of exposure to ergonomic risk factors that wear out human joints and connective tissues such that they become sore and sometimes unusable. Similar to hearing loss, WMSDs occur gradually over a long period of exposure to risk factors such as awkward postures, high forces and excessive repetitive motion.

WMSDs account for 34 percent of all lost workday injuries and illnesses, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Each year, WMSDs account for more than $15 to $20 billion in workers' compensation costs in the United States, or $1 of every $3 spent for workers' compensation.

Ergonomics can reduce workers' comp costs and also increase production efficiency. Simply having the necessary tools and materials on site, visibly labeled, and available for immediate use can result in lower exposure to ergonomic risk and less search time. Consider that every 10 steps require approximately 7.5 seconds; that adds up quickly.

Although there is no federal OSHA ergonomics standard, employers remain liable under OSHA's General Duty Clause (Section 5(a)(1)). OSHA has used this clause in numerous cases to enforce the prevention and control of ergonomic hazards. The General Duty Clause states that each employer shall furnish each employee with a place free from recognized hazards that are likely to cause death or serious physical harm.

Tips to improve job sites

These ergonomics tips offer ideas on improving the tools, equipment, work areas and work methods at a job site.

  1. Use the right tool for the job. For example, use lag screws and sockets made for a cordless drill to ratchet down bolts versus traditional hand ratcheting. When working with a reciprocating saw, use the appropriate blade to cut the appropriate materials (e.g., wood blade for cutting wood).
  2. Select lightweight battery-operated drills. Added weight comes with higher volt drills; for example, a 24V drill is about 25 percent heavier than a 14.4V drill.
  3. Establish a preventative maintenance program for your tools and equipment to extend the life of the equipment and reduce overall effort during use.
  4. Buy tools equipped with secondary handles to distribute the force over both hands and arms.
  5. Use longer/shorter tool bits to extend/shorten reaches.
  6. Use lightweight pneumatic hoses with swivel connectors to ease tool use and reduce the weight of the attached hose.
  7. Replace worn drill bits to minimize drilling duration and the exerted force required to tap a hole.
  8. Use proper gauge extension cords to deliver the necessary power to tools. Inadequate cords result in more time needed to do the job and they can reduce tool longevity.
  9. Clean tools after each use so they are easier and safer to use next time you need them.
  10. Try different tools before purchasing. You may be surprised by how two similar tools fit you and the job very differently.
  11. Lubricate tools to keep them in good working order and to minimize vibration during use.
  12. While tying rebar or screwing down decks, use extended handled drivers, so the work can be performed standing up.
  13. Use a laser scope on a chop saw when cutting materials to improve overall accuracy and improve neck and back postures.
  14. While routering, use a small piece of carpet to keep the work piece in place, and to alleviate the force and awkward postures of the hand holding the piece on the worktable.
  15. Use battery-powered caulking guns to increase speed and reduce force. Battery powered units dispense a standard 11-ounce cartridge in two minutes or less.
  16. Spray trowels with cooking spray to improve the ease of floating and reduce clean-up time.
  17. Add a 2x4 to the top of your sawhorse to raise work to a more appropriate level. Every inch is worth a mile when it comes to reducing ergonomic risk.
  18. While working or cutting, place work pieces on a sawhorse or a workbench to alleviate back bending. Use the truck tailgate if possible.
  19. Add a vise to the tailgate of company trucks to hold work pieces.
  20. Use a ladder hoist operated from ground level to deliver shingles and other materials to the roof. Ladder hoists eliminate the need to carry materials up to roof height.
  21. Build jigs when cutting many same-sized parts to reduce the time and effort needed.
  22. Provide good work lighting, possibly head-mounted or camper's lights, so employees can see what they are doing.
  23. While laying masonry block, adjust scaffolding to position bricks between 2 and 3 feet high for the worker.
  24. While laying masonry block, pump mortar to the point of application.
  25. Install adjustable, anti-vibration seating in earth moving equipment.
  26. While hanging drywall overhead, use plasterboard lifts to crank the board to the desired height and hold it in place as you fasten it.
  27. Limit the amount of weight carried by hand. When necessary, use a cart like a hand truck if the job site permits.
  28. Keep the job site clean to minimize slips and trips, and to reduce the total amount of walking throughout the day.
  29. Take time to stack materials into appropriate work piles to save double and triple handling when searching for materials.
  30. Keep tools organized in the truck to reduce search time and potential tool damage.
  31. Store frequently used tools at about waist height in trucks to promote good body postures.
  32. Position all work materials (lumber, tools) as close to the work location as possible to reduce walking and carrying.
  33. Ensure all building elements are square during construction to minimize recuts and the time to "fit" pieces together.
  34. Pre-assemble soffits and water/electrical connectors on a worktable prior to installing to limit the amount of overhead work.
  35. Make biscuit joints versus dados whenever possible. Biscuit joints are just as strong, yet are quicker and easier to make.
  36. Use drum dollies to move mud buckets across floor.
  37. Use shoe inserts to reduce the stress on the back and legs from standing/walking all day.
  38. If gloves are worn, ensure a good fit. Gloves that do not fit properly can increase the gripping force.

Jeffrey Smagacz, Director and Ergonomics Engineer for Humantech (www.humantech.com), has done over 1,500 ergonomic assessments in a range of industries and trained more than 10,000 people. He has been recognized as a Board Certified Professional Ergonomist (CPE) and Board Certified Industrial Ergonomist (CIE). Jeffrey is also a licensed builder and has been around the construction industry for almost 20 years.

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