An employee comes to you and says that’s he’s hurting. In this case, it’s his shoulders. So, you look down the line for a workstation requiring a different activity, and you plan a regular job rotation with the person running that station on his same shift. With gratitude, the employee goes back to work.
Four days later, the employee calls in sick. His shoulders hurt too badly to work, he says. He says his doctor wants him off the job for two weeks. Two weeks go by, and ultimately he doesn’t ever come back. You’re surprised by this. You did what you thought would solve the problem. What happened?
This is a regular occurrence in manufacturing job rotation, and there are five common mistakes made in designing a job rotation program that, if avoided, will actually set you on the path to establishing an assertive injury prevention program.
Mistake #1: Not including movement training. Nothing would get done without humans moving. But are they moving the right way? Work has two parts: the tasks to be done and a method for doing them. Each task can be performed in such a way to minimize the risk of causing personal discomfort and injury. Do you know the best way to physically approach each task that a worker will perform each day, over and over? It’s not relying solely on the use of correct angles, which is common in ergonomics. That’s just a start. Using technology such as sEMG, it is possible to see how an individual’s approach to the work is causing him or her discomfort, and how to modify the approach to reduce or completely eliminate that discomfort. More importantly, sEMG shows aberrant muscle firing patterns and different types of muscle fatigue. Individuals most often can’t perceive this in themselves; therefore, identifying the patterns prior to an injury and prior to a complaint can dramatically decrease risk for musculoskeletal injuries. Health professionals highly skilled in movement retraining can then train individuals on optimal movement patterns for them that will avoid musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) and injury.
Mistake #2: Not designing a specific stretching/dynamic movement program for each workstation. A generic stretching program is a good start, but if different movements are required at different workstations, specific stretches geared to those movements will provide the most benefit. For example, a welder may just need to stand up straight and perform forearm stretches between units to relieve upper body stress or have a high stool to sit on for a minute to relieve low back pain, or both. Workers need to be taught these specific stretches and countering movements along with the task at hand when they are rotated into a new position. Employees leading the stretch programs should have additional education on the general whys, hows, a developing critical eye, and an attitude of engaging employees that half-heartedly participate or do not participate. This type of engagement will assist the program to become better.
Mistake #3: Not breaking tasks down into their minimal components and addressing each. The task may be a grip and cut in food processing, for example, but there’s also a repetitive reach to get the next piece of work. Are all of these movements considered when planning job rotation? Analyzing time exposure, static positions, the number of repetitions, and stress angles on joints required by the work at each station are just some of the factors that should be considered in a quality job rotation program.
Mistake #4: Not proactively responding to complaints. If the lines of communication are open and broad between workers and management, the first hints of discomfort will be revealed. This is an opportunity to proactively address them. First aid massage, Kinesio Taping, and movement retraining, review and correction are just some of the tools that can be used to diminish the risk and return the worker to a better physical ability.
Mistake #5: Rotating employees to workstations with similar versus completely diverse movements. Do both stations require using the upper extremities in similar ways? Constant gripping or twisting or reaching and lifting, for example? How is the back being used at each workstation? Is repetitive twisting involved? Reaching down and pulling? If you can switch an employee to a station where none of the same movements are required you’ll get the best results. Even the order in which the rotation happens can have an impact.
Job rotation in a production environment is an art, but it can produce amazing results if done in concert with a highly trained production movement specialist. If you’d like a free and confidential consult on an area of concern in your own company, please give us a call at 803-716-9167.