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Ergonomics isn't just for chairs

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Ergonomics, the word is so associated with office chairs people forget to apply similar principles to work like lifting.

Chair ergonomics is all about comfort for a long day at a computer. The seat height adjusts so your feet are grounded comfortably, the back supports your lumbar region, and armrests must allow the chair to pull fully to the desk so you can reach your work without stretching.

As an employee making a lift or moving a load on a cart, your number one job is safety. Safety relates to comfort and reducing stress and strain on your body.

Assess Your Load

Like assessing your workstation for layout, assess the load to be moved. Is it too heavy for one person? Is it too unmanageable of a shape to balance the load?

Decide if this lift is solo or seek help. In seeking help, take the lead in choreographing the lift and carry to minimize miscommunication or working at cross purposes. Once both parties are on the same task, begin.

Use Proper Lifting Ergonomics

1. Properly attach a lifting belt which supports your back and shifts some of the load to your shoulders.
2. Bend with your knees and keep your back straight.
3. Be sure you have a good grip, wear gloves if needed
4. Keep the load close to your body.
5. Balance with your feet, don't twist your body while lifting.
6. Lift with your major leg muscles.
7. Store heavier loads at an easier lifting height.

Carts and Hand Trucks

Consider the pathway you will be following: any obstructions, tight corners, traffic, low ceiling heights, any obstacles? Decide on the best path and secure traffic. 

After balancing and securing the load, push the truck or dolly whenever possible. The load and path are visible to you when pushing rather than pulling.

Ergonomically, pushing is easier on your back muscles. Arms straight, lean your body weight into the load; then when you achieve the correct straight posture, push with your leg muscles.

If the load does not move, get help. Do not allow the load to move without the strength to keep it under control.

Keep your back straight and lumbar supported. Let your legs do the work. And, do not twist. Work in a comfortable posture. 


How workers compensation costs affect workers paychecks. Tell them.

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As advocates of disclosing the costs of employee benefits to the employees, workers' compensation premiums are often ignored. Why? It's difficult to give a specific cost per employee since the premium is part fixed cost and part variable to their wage.

Employees are poorly educated in the area of how much money is available for payroll, or more broadly, remuneration. The entire conversation about production versus remuneration can be boiled down to they need to bring in more money than they cost you. That's understandable. How much more money in excess of their paycheck is more difficult to comprehend.

For the sake of this discussion, assume all workers' compensation is ten percent of payroll. With preferred rates and experience modifications, that can vary between 8 and 12%.

Your employee must learn that safety and claims puts up to 4% of their paycheck at risk. Companies with excellent safety records and low claims have more money filter down to paychecks, and still remain price competitive.

It's a hard lesson for employees to learn. If an employee earns $25 per hour, they make about $50,000 per year. Safety and low claims can free $2000 per year for additional payroll? Over the long run, the answer is yes. And, it's a good policy to bonus employees in this way. Even if some of the long-term savings are used to match 401K contributions, or some other safety benefit idea.

The most important rule is: have this discussion. Safety equipment, protection or processes may cost money, but injuries cost more. If employees support the safety culture, less money is spent on injuries so more can be spent on remuneration. It is a long-term process, several years to accumulate savings and gain an historical confidence in the culture.

Workplace safety can be the most important employee benefit in their plan. They definitely help control the costs and actively gain other employees participation. 


Back up alarms and Safety Belts On All Equipment

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Back-Up Alarms and Seat belts, two safety features on mobile equipment that are too often disabled.

Seat belts serve many purposes, not just keeping the operator in the seat or in the machine during an overturn event.

Especially rubber tire equipment, the operator bounces in their seat when moving between locations. Many operators suffer head injuries by bouncing into the structure of the cage when not wearing belts properly.

Usually the belt has a built in security feature whereby the ignition will not work unless the belt is properly snapped into position. Some operators choose to buckle the belt, and then get in the seat. This override leads to injuries.

The equipment manufacturers installed automatic neutral control settings when hands were not contacting the joy sticks. So when the operator pops out of the seat, the tracks stop rolling and the bucket stops moving.

Unfortunately, the neutral controls are not fail-safe either.

The best option requires the operator to stay in his seat while operating the machine. That requires a seat belt. Insist they be worn at all times while operating any ride-on equipment.

Back-up Alarms

Jobsites are inherently loud places. They can be a bit chaotic when several crews work in close quarters. Vehicle traffic insensitive to large equipment operations with limited visual fields can create bedlam for the operator.

Check back-up alarms daily. It is one warning system that may not save property losses when people park their vehicles ten feet away from a back-dragging dozer; but it may save the driver when it warns them to get clear.

Excavators track systems have forwards and backwards orientation; but the cabs can turn the full 360 degrees. So the cab can face forward and from the operators perspective move backward, but the tracks believe they're moving forward and not warn people behind the machine.

Excavators should be equipped with a motion alarm that warns whenever the machine is moved. Visibility is not great from those cabs.

Consider using lighted warnings as well. The yellow warning beacons are noticeable on busy construction sites where sound may not be the best warning system. And, sound pollution is diminished while the beacon serves as a motion detector rather than purely a back-up indicator.

Safety devices keep everyone safer; use them properly and enforce their use on operators. Then try to improve them using beacons or other add-ons. 


How to Conduct an On-Site Safety Meeting

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Meetings require brevity and clarity, if you want your message received. Attention to your audience breeds attention to you. Think about the meeting as a three act play.

Act I: Define your world and its dangers:
1. On the construction site, in the plant, around the storage yard, in the warehouse:
2. Overexertion, Slips and falls, poor ergonomics, being struck by an object:
3. Causes X% of all injuries (those four mentioned total 72%)
4. So today's topic is important to your health and safety.

Act II: The lesson
1. Overexertion is the leading cause of job site injury.
2. Assess your load for weight and handle-ability
3. Are proper lifting devices available? Forklift, pallet jack, hand truck
4. Is help available for two man lifts?
5. Can you lift alone with proper technique?
6. Ask for any help you need to accomplish the task safely.
7. Complete the task

Act III: Define the New World of Safer Conditions
1. Overexertion is to be avoided
2. Assess the task
3. Ask for help or equipment
4. Complete the task.

All attendees should sign an outline of the topic acknowledging their understanding, and given a copy.

Act I takes one minute. Act II should never exceed seven minutes, five is better. Act III, two minutes, tops. Why so brief? Attention span is hard wired into humans and seven minutes per topic is about all you have to teach anything. That's why a good attention-getter like self-preservation works; you'll get the full seven minutes.

Act II is a good place for visual aids. Perhaps your company has a forty pound lift rule. Handle-ability might be demonstrated as a five gallon bucket of water or a forty pound eight-foot long bench. Both offer challenges, but the bench may require help for an easier task.

Act III is redundant. It wraps up the key points for emphasis. You might want to remind employees that safety is the number one employee benefit, we want you home safe at night.