Industrial Engineer Engineering and Management Solutions at Work

April 2014    |    Volume: 46    |    Number: 4

The member magazine of the Institute of Industrial Engineers

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Emerging Technologies

Innovative tools of the trade

By Jessica Jeppsson

Moving to safety

In today’s fast-paced, high-demand work environment, many companies are employing various techniques and tools to improve operational efficiency and competitiveness. This column typically features products that accomplish those goals, but not always ones that take into account the most valuable resource a company has: its employees.

In addition to the demands to be efficient and cost-competitive, companies have a responsibility to provide a safe and healthy workplace. The fastest growing safety and health concern in the last two decades is ergonomics.

Material handling is a perfect example of an area that today remains an ergonomics nightmare for IEs. In warehouses and distribution centers, dilapidated manual push carts sometimes are the only available means for transporting materials. Although the job descriptions for these employees include lifting requirements, more often than not the moving of heavier products is left for the strongest of employees to struggle through, which can result in overexertion or back injury.

DJ Products’ CartCaddy5WP tug is just one of the many modern material handling devices that can eliminate injuries caused by manually pushing carts. Connecting to the swivel caster end of a cart, this bright yellow tug easily can push, pull or turn loads of materials up to 20,000 pounds.

The employee can move carts at safe speeds up to three miles per hour with the tug’s variable speed twist grip. This ergonomic control prevents carpal tunnel injuries and facilitates smoother maneuvering of the cart. Using three standard 12-volt batteries, the tug is good for 16 hours of ergonomic material handling and has a visible battery gauge to keep employees alert.

The best and most necessary feature of the CartCaddy is its safety stop switch, positioned at the back of the Power Tug handle bar box. Engaging this switch immediately stops the machine.

Ergonomics is equally important off the shop floor. True, office employees are less likely to suffer from pain caused by heavy lifting, but they face a different set of ergonomic issues. Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is the biggest culprit of ergonomic problems in people with desk jobs.

In addition, poorly designed office chairs can lead to back pain and problems, and the stress brought on by incorrect seating choices can cause pain in the neck, shoulders, arms and legs. Ergonomic office chairs can increase your employees comfort and safety.

Fastrack’s Screen Back-Mesh Seat FAS-317 takes full-body ergonomics into consideration. The adjustable lumbar support keeps perfect posture, while one-touch pneumatic controls raise and lower the seat to meet the height needs of virtually any user. With CTS in mind, Fastrack designed the chair with adjustable armrests to help with good wrist posture.

According to OSHA, ergonomic chairs like the ones offered by Fastrack have helped reduce absenteeism and increase productivity.

Jessica Jeppsson holds bachelor's degrees in industrial engineering and in operations and supply chain from North Carolina State University. She currently is employed as a solution engineer for a software company.