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Article # 10108

Ambitious Ergonomics Program Takes Aim at Worker's Compensation Costs

During her 20+ years with one of the leading construction equipment manufacturers in the world, Faith Peters, R.N., has seen her company's workers' compensation claims rise steadily.

To counteract this trend, the company empowered Peters to create a comprehensive ergonomics program to curtail the number of on-the-job injuries. Since January of 1994, Fay has helped the company institute ergonomic solutions in both the executive suite and on the plant floor.

"As a member of the Benefits Office," says Ergonomics Technician, Faith Peters, "I see firsthand how much the company pays in workers' compensation claims. We've created our ergonomics program to reduce these costs by systematically eliminating injuries."

Peters' mission is to educate all of the company's workers about ergonomics and provide solutions to on-going problems like Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) and back injuries. To this end, she has formed an alliance with Magid Glove and Safety to act as a resource for new ideas and as a catalyst for change, and to supply her with the necessary safety equipment. The two companies have established two safety stores within the walls of the machinery manufacturer’s facility. The stores' full-time employees are trained in qualitative respirator testing, shoe fitting, and record keeping. In addition, one part-time safety store employee, a qualified optician, administers the vision program. The optician verifies the prescription and properly fits each employee on site. The merit of having on site safety stores - besides tremendous cost savings - is that it allows the technical personnel of the heavy machinery manufacturer to focus on implementing the new PPE (Personal Protection Equipment) standards program instead of administering these tasks.

"On a regular basis, Magid sends safety equipment product representatives to our facility to demonstrate new ergonomic tools," says Peters. "Once we've seen the demonstration, we usually instruct Magid to add the product to the safety stores' inventory."

Light at the end of the Carpal Tunnel
In the 90's, personal computers became pervasive in the offices of the leading heavy machinery supplier. Every desk has a computer and keyboard, and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) has become the scourge of the office worker. To eliminate this painful and costly problem, the company is training employees to avoid it by using wrist rests, good posture, and proper data entry techniques. For those who suffer from CTS, the company is providing early treatment to reverse its effects.

"Recently, with our classes on office ergonomics, Magid's safety stores have added products like anti-glare screens and document holders to help our office workers," says Peters. "The workers can get what they need, take it back to their desk, and immediately put it to good use.

CTS is one of the most talked about ergonomics problems - and one of the most costly in both human and financial terms. According to data collected from America's factories and offices by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 60 percent of all workplace injuries are due to "cumulative trauma disorders," which are a result of jobs that require repetitive motion. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 50 percent of those who suffer from CTS miss about 30 days of work each year.

The impact of proactive response of the major heavy machinery provider to this problem is beginning to be felt, as less severe CTS cases are being reported at their facility.

On the Shop Floor
"The shop is another place where we can eliminate costly injuries," says Peters, "and we've already had a number of successes there."

The company has raised platforms in load/unload areas and installed ramps instead of steps in many areas of the shop. These seemingly minor changes in the workspace have reduced operator fatigue and improved worker mobility. However, according to Peters, the most significant ergonomic improvement occurred when the company upgraded one plant's torque impact tools.
"We tried at least eight different pulse guns," says Peters. "It took patience and various employee suggestions to find an acceptable pulse gun. Today, the plant's pulse guns are suspended from a zero balancer. This device assures that the weight of the gun is not placed on the operator."

According to Peters, her company has also instituted a program to cut down on injuries by eliminating vibration in the workplace. In the plant, tools have been equipped with a line of Sorbothane® anti-vibration wraps; some forklifts have been fitted with anti-vibration seat cushions; and just recently, the company has begun testing Magid's anti-vibration gloves.

"We are seeing a reduction in the number of people being injured and complaining about pain," says Peters. "We are solving a lot of problems through the anti-vibration products, and much of the credit goes to the Magid people who brought these products to our attention.