The skeleton in our closet
Most manufacturers have problems trying to prevent their staff slowly developing Upper Limb Disorders (ULD’s) over time. Unfortunately as it’s generally not regarded as a critical safety issue, (where organisations tend to jump to attention immediately following an accident or invest plenty of resources preventing them happening in the first place), ULD’s and their causes tend to be put onto the back burner. As they say, “We scream Safety but only whisper ill health” when statistically, the problem really ought to be seen as the other way round.
The HSE developed a relatively easy and straightforward approach to assessing the risks to operators developing disorders with their ART tool (Assessment of Repetitive Tasks) INDG 438. There are means to developing these techniques even further, by being critical of each element of the causal factors, combining with diagnostic tools to actually measure the human pressures exerted with grip and effect of repetition for combinations of tasks. There are more recent developments by XSENS based in the Netherlands who are utilising the latest motion capture sensor technology to digitise and analyse human movements. However, the ART tool is a good starting point for most humble manufacturers enabling them to determine if a process is liable to be detrimental in the long term to an operator. Any elements scoring highly can hopefully addressed and thereby significantly reducing the risk. I encountered this at a manufacturing plant processing engine ring components. At the inspection and packaging stage there was a significant overall risk identified. A number of recommendations were made to the process, but by implementing just one single step, changing the shift pattern from four - ten hour shifts to five - eight hour shifts, reduced the overall risk to operators more than the combined sum of four other lesser risk reductions by modifications to the process.
Ideally even before taking on the assessment, in this day and age we are expected to address all the factors concerned with the option of automating operations. It has just been announced in IOSH Magazine – February 2019 that UK government is to spend £26.6 million in developing robots for working in confined spaces and working at height (once more, a nod of the head to safety, not health issues). Yet on the other hand in the IOSH Magazine – January issue; Critical moves article, Stuart Bassford of Toyota car manufacturers near Derby summed up by implying that many of the production line fitting tasks do not lend themselves very readily to automation. However at this plant there is great resource put into consultation and engagement of staff to help solve recognised ergonomic problems on the car lines and then a process of sharing that information across all their other car plants. Having a strict policy of how they identify, classify and deal with the issues. There are also robust reporting and early intervention methods for staff who are “not feeling right” with the task. Some of the mechanical solutions have included the use of low level fixed position seating, powered seat lifts, and fixed position Zero-G technology. i.e. moveable yet supported fixed tools, similar to supported camera systems moving along the side-lines and filming a premier football match.
One solution currently being reviewed by all the car manufacturers and in many other heavier manufacturing sectors is in the use of ppe in the form exo-skeletons to help support and take the strain out of tasks requiring the use of poor posture or continuously holding equipment out in-front of the operator for long periods of time.
You can see for yourself how this could be a solution and why it is being used by many manufacturers across Europe when you come to visit and test a skeleton for yourself at the Train to Safety annual seminar on May 16th at Ollerton Pumping Station Near to Nottingham and Newark.