Employers are becoming quite savvy when it comes to buying the latest and greatest ergonomic chairs, work platforms and other equipment designed with the worker’s comfort and safety in mind. So why do repetitive strain injuries (RSI) still occur? One problem is that many workplaces lose sight of the whole point of ergonomics: keeping the human body—literally and figuratively—front and centre.
Take for instance the workers in a brewery’s bottle recycling department. One particular operation, commonly referred to as “throw on,” involves unloading boxes of empty beer bottles from a pallet onto a moving conveyor.
It takes a worker two to five seconds to remove a box of empties from the pallet and throw it onto the conveyor. This one task, which is repeated several times per minute, requires a series of movements: reaching for the box, grasping the box, lifting and carrying the box to the conveyor using one or both hands, releasing the box onto the conveyor, and returning to the pallet to do it all again, keeping pace with the moving conveyor. Two workers rotate to this task every 30 minutes.
Textbook knowledge on how the human spine and muscles work would reveal why “throw on” workers are often at risk of lower back pain and other physical discomfort. Not only does such frequent handling of cases of empty bottles exceed NIOSH-recommended weight limits by up to 10 times, but the workers must continually lift, grip and throw them at a fast pace, continually moving and twisting their bodies while standing on a hard floor.
This article first appeared in Accident Prevention magazine, published by IAPA (Industrial Accident Prevention Association).