Packaging Industry and Ergonomics: How to avoid injuries
The word “ergonomics” originates from the Greek language from the word “ergon,” meaning work, and “nomos” meaning “laws.” In todays terminology, this word refers to the science of “designing the job to fit the worker, rather than forcing the worker to fit the job.” Every aspect of a job, from the physical stresses it places on muscles, joints, tendons, nerves, and bones, to environmental factors like noise, lighting, temperature, air moisture and other factors that can affect human health – it is all related to the subject of ergonomics.
In the packaging industry, we focus on packaging solutions. We focus on cartoners, case packers, tray packers, and palletizers. We focus on protecting the product, but we shouldn’t overlook the importance of protecting the workers as well.
Ergonomic Injuries in the World of Packaging
When done manually, packaging operations often require employees to stand in a single location, performing repetitive movements. Some packaging operations require heavy lifting or awkward postures. Workers that handle packaging operations manually have the risk of repetitive motion injuries – injuries that are caused by performing the same movement over and over which strains the body part. A research paper published earlier this year, “An Ergonomic Investigation of the Case Packing Line at Company XYZ” gave us these insights on the types of injuries and their impact when it comes to manual case packing operations. According to the paper, the most common injuries were associated with the wrist (caused by cumulative trauma disorders, such as carpal tunnel syndrome and tendonitis) and the back (the result of improper lifting techniques). But these injuries don’t hurt only the worker. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics emphasizes the loss of productivity caused by workplace injuries, for example:
- 3,277,700 total reportable injuries; 965,000 of those injuries resulted in absence from work
- 379,340 injury reports involved sprains, strains, and tears; 11% of those injuries (43,100) happened to workers in the manufacturing industry
- 195,150 back injuries were reported; 10% (20,540) occurred to employees in the manufacturing industry (v)
What can WE do? There are two possible solutions: training and automation.
Training of workers in order for them to develop right ergonomic work habits can be helpful. It cannot harm to advise your employees to:
1) Avoid long reaches (over 16 in.);
2) Keep hands and elbows down;
3) Avoid using the first three inches of the work surface;
4) Avoid tilting the head forward greater than thirty degrees;
5) Avoid tilting the upper body forward;
6) Change posture occasionally.
Though training can help, it doesn’t change the work process, so certain risks remain. These risks can be lowered by automation, so consider these improvements for your packaging line in order to avoid repetitive motion injuries and other hazards:
- Instead of making the workers erect cartons by hand, consider acquiring a case erector. Besides an increase in the efficiency, you will also eliminate the chance of repeated-use injuries.
- To prevent repetitive use injury due to hand taping of cases, think about the use of case sealers which automatically apply tamper evident security tape to packages.
- Use a robotic automation solution to reduce the ergonomic risks of both the manual case packing and palletizing processes. A robot cannot be injured, so if you leave all the repetitive work to a robot, human intervention will be required only to run the machine and re-load the case magazine. When it comes to palletizing, let the robot handle the case lifting and stacking motions, and reduce the risk of injury to personnel. Keep in mind that even assembly processes include repetitive motion that can lead to carpal tunnel syndrome or tendonitis. Robots today have what it takes for assembly and material handling processes, so you can reassign your workers to duties that are less likely to cause injury.
Bottom line: By reducing the risk of injury to their personnel, manufacturers can increase profitability, which may, among other things, allow manufacturers to stay where they are, instead of relocating their factories somewhere where wages are lower. If we take the human factor into consideration, we can easily calculate how much money we can save only by keeping our workers safe. Do the math and you will clearly see the ergonomic advantages of automating manual processes.
So, do something nice for your business and people that work for you, and check out Tishma Technologies’ cartoners, case and tray packers and palletizers – each of them with their unique set of modular add-ons for full automation of the packaging process.