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Motion Control Engineering & Manufacturing Resources

[How to] Improve Shop Floor Safety with Manufacturing Ergonomics

[How to] Improve Shop Floor Safety with Manufacturing Ergonomics

Posted by Weber Knapp on Jun 12, 2023 9:00:00 AM

In manufacturing, safety is always a major concern. Hazards that come with the territory of a manufacturing line or shop floor can pose a serious threat to the health and well-being of your employees.

Not only is it important that your employees can work safely, but neglecting preventative safety measures can add up to massive costs, including:

  • Equipment damage
  • Time loss and waste
  • Lawsuits
  • Worker's compensation premium increases

Manufacturing professionals agree – a comprehensive safety program is essential to a healthy, productive workplace. Developing systems that promote good manufacturing ergonomics is part of a good safety program. 

Poor ergonomics in equipment and workstations lead to problems over time, causing just as many, if not more costly problems than if you'd just invested in the right practices in the first place.

With poor ergonomic considerations, both repeated long-term strain and sudden accidents can cause musculoskeletal disorders, leading to problems in your company. Even something as simple as bad posture hurts employee health and happiness over time.


Ergonomics in Manufacturing: Establishing a Culture of Workplace Ergonomics

Encouraging ergonomic practices through company policy is a good start for a healthier and safer workplace. To have real effect, however, culture must be cultivated from the top of the company down.

Telling employees to follow safe practices with their work often has minimal success unless they see those attitudes reflected in supervisors and management. Giving workers education on how to work safely, while also ensuring that they have the right tools to do so, will foster a positive culture where the entire organization proactively seeks out more safe and healthy work practices.

There are many ways that shop floor safety can improve through proper ergonomics, but some of the easiest "quick wins" are:


Reposition Every 30 Minutes

While this is common advice in computer-intensive office jobs, it is also hugely beneficial for many of the repetitive motions that often cause long-term injury on a shop floor. 

You’ve heard the advice that workers who sit all day need to take breaks every 30 minutes to stand up and move. But what about workers on a shop floor who stand all day?

According to Cornell University Ergonomics Web, standing all day has its own risks:

“...it is more tiring, for men with ischemic heart disease it increases the progression of carotid atherosclerosis because of the additional load on the circulatory system. Prolonged standing at work also increases the risks of varicose veins... So standing all day is unhealthy. The performance of many fine motor skills also is less good when people stand rather than sit.”

Ergonomists have been aware for some time that standing to work can induce more fatigue than sitting. This is because it places about 20% more pressure on the circulatory system and the legs and feet. 

To address this, many industries provide their employees with ergonomic: 

  • anti-fatigue devices on which to stand 
  • anti-fatigue footwear 
  • chairs that allow rest during breaks


Lift With Your Legs

Everybody in manufacturing has heard this, but is it really in practice in your organization? 

Proper lifting not only involves squatting to ensure that the majority of stress is on your legs instead of your spine, but also lifting loads closer to you. Lifting from far away may cause you to actually strain your back more as you rise. 

Check out this slideshow presentation from the Mayo Clinic that breaks down the technique’s steps:

  • Start in a safe position
  • Maintain the natural curve in your lower back
  • Use your legs
  • Squatting instead of kneeling
  • Let your legs do the work
  • Avoid twisting


Get the Right Ergonomic Equipment

If you want a healthier and safer workforce, you have to provide workers with the right tools to get the job done. There are many equipment-based solutions available for workplace ergonomics. 

Considering the risks of your specific worksite and providing the right equipment will allow employees to work more safely and productively.

  • Lifting aids. Installing pallet lifts and other lifting aids at key points can minimize the risk of injury. Mobile lifting solutions like forklifts and hand trucks not only decrease strain on employees but can also massively improve efficiency.
  • Transportation devices. Carts or other transportation can be cost-effective ways to minimize accidents, especially in areas where workers routinely carry heavy loads.
  • Computers and multi-user workstations. Shared office computers, desks, CNC machines, or assembly stations are commonly used by many employees. Outfitting these with adjustable ergonomic manufacturing workstation seating and displays is essential since they need to accommodate many people. Tons of solutions exist for ergonomic workstation designs for manufacturing. Applying those strategies to shared workspaces improves mental and physical health.
  • Large toolboxes or other heavy lids with hinges. Installing opening solutions such as a counterbalance hinge can reduce the risk of injury from the repeated strain of heavy lifting.


Provide Proper Training

Training is the beginning of company culture. Without proper training, any company directives about safe practices can die on the vine.

Educate employees on how to use the tools you provide them to maximum effect. Continually stress the importance of implementing ergonomics best practices for manufacturing

Involve employees regularly by offering safety goals and rewards and engaging in community activities like specific ergonomic stretches for manufacturing workers.


Employ a Checklist

An ergonomic assessment checklist helps identify and address potential safety issues before they become a problem. 

Designed to help employers evaluate the physical environment of their workplace, typical ergonomic checklists include assessment of:

  • The design of workstations, tools, and equipment 
  • How employees use them
  • Lighting 
  • Temperature


Improve Safety with Manufacturing Ergonomics

Train your employees to follow proper manufacturing ergonomics, then show them you care about it through policies and actions. 

Successful implementation of ergonomics best practices for manufacturing includes:

  • Moving regularly
  • Lifting with legs
  • Proper equipment
  • Training
  • Checklists

You'll be well on your way to increasing production with a safer, healthier work environment.


More Ergonomic Ideas for Manufacturing

To learn more ergonomic tips and tools for manufacturing, download our free e-book:

Manager's Equipment Guide

(This article was originally published in May 2021 and was recently updated.)

Topics: Ergonomics, Safety, Manufacturing