In 2013, a major tire manufacturer was facing a familiar problem. Too many employees were being injured on the job.
This wasn’t a case of faulty processes or malfunctioning equipment. The simple fact was that staff members were working in conditions that made certain injuries inevitable. The plant in question hadn’t yet enacted ergonomics reforms, and the nature of the job involved working with large, heavy, and awkward structures. Every time a worker lifted an object, they increased the risk of developing a musculoskeletal disorder.
Toward the end of 2013, safety officers at a plant in Fayetteville, North Carolina instituted a new ergonomics drive. The “Push, Pull, Lift” campaign was designed just to train workers on safe techniques for common workplace tasks. It ended up inventing a new method of teaching ergonomics that can improve safety at any facility, regardless of industry: the Ergonomics Sandbox.
Teaching Ergonomics in the Field
Staff involvement is key to the success of any safety training initiative. Workers at the Fayetteville plant got enthusiastic when they saw the strong results of the Push, Pull, Lift campaign — an 80 percent improvement in “ergonomic form,” according to those within the company.
Staff themselves decided that they needed a longer-term training solution, both for new hires and for a quick refresher long after the initial training. That impulse led to the creation of the plant’s Ergonomics Sandbox.
You can learn the basic precepts of ergonomics in the classroom, but without hands-on experience practicing safer movements, it’s difficult to make meaningful changes. The Ergonomics Sandbox gives workers a chance to practice workplace actions in a safe, controlled environment.
Essentially, the Fayetteville plant’s Ergonomic Sandbox is comprised of a small area of the production floor, cordoned off just for training. It contains many pieces of training equipment, including mock machinery and items similar to those which staff must work with in their actual jobs.
This equipment is remarkably low-cost, considering the gains it can offer. For instance, some training tasks use a simple rod with a 45-pound spool of fabric at one end. One training module asks staff to lift the rod with the weight at the opposite end, while the other places the weight close to the worker’s body. The palpable difference is usually enough to remind staff to keep objects close to their bodies while lifting them.
Building an Ergonomics Sandbox at Your Facility
Any company can use an Ergonomics Sandbox to train workers on daily activities. Just find a little-used area of your regular work floor and rope it off, or, even better, separate it with Structural Barrier Rails or Bollards.
It’s important that your Ergonomics Sandbox mimic the actual conditions of work as accurately as possible, but don’t worry too much about buying new equipment. Weights that approximate the loads workers typically encounter will do just fine. If a piece of machinery breaks down, don’t just throw it out — use it to train staff by installing it in the Ergonomics Sandbox.
As we mentioned, when staff are invested in a training project, that effort is bound to succeed. Appoint interested workers as Safety Captains, and give them more intense ergonomics training. Then, they can pass that training along, peer-to-peer, using the Ergonomics Sandbox to illustrate concepts and practice techniques.
Musculoskeletal disorders are a leading cause of workplace injury, comprises a third of all cases in 2013, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. With proper training — bolstered by a well-outfitted Ergonomics Sandbox — every workplace can cut down on injuries while keeping work moving more efficiently than ever.
McCrea, Bridget. “A peek into [an] ergonomic sandbox.” MMH. Peerless Media LLC, 1 June 2015. Web. 2 Jan. 2017.
“Safety and Health Topics: Ergonomics.” OSHA. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, United States Department of Labor, n.d. Web. 2 Jan. 2017.