13 Tips for Manufacturing Employees Restarting Work

13 Tips for Manufacturing Employees Restarting Work

As standard operations and the pace of production starts to revert to normal, both employers and employees must consider the possibility of physical deconditioning.

Manufacturing jobs are often physically demanding. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, many employees with “non-essential” jobs spent months either not working or working reduced hours. As standard operations and the pace of production starts to revert to normal, both employers and employees must consider the possibility of physical deconditioning—negative changes to the body that develop over time due to reduced physical activity. Restarting work after physical deconditioning occurs places employees at higher risk of developing musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). It can also affect production standards by reducing employee productivity and product quality.

As you restart work, you may notice some of the following:

Reduced muscle strength

The average adult can lose up to three percent of muscle strength per day. Over the course of multiple weeks, it is easy to see how a noticeable reduction in strength might occur if an individual is maintaining sedentary behavior.

Reduced cardiovascular fitness and physical endurance

Much like your muscles, over time your heart can lose strength with a lack of physical activity. A weaker heart makes it more challenging to quickly pump blood to working muscles during physical activity. This will cause the body to fatigue more quickly due to less oxygen and energy molecules getting to the working muscles. Less oxygen getting to your muscles and tissue means lactic acid build-up; this will contribute to earlier muscle fatigue and delayed-onset muscle soreness following the activity.

Reduced range of motion

Extended periods of time with reduced activity will likely limit one’s ability to extend or bend certain body segments. Your body’s joints will have less elasticity and you’ll experience increased muscle stiffness. This may require you to change the way you complete certain tasks when returning to work in order to reduce the risk of muscle strain.

Increased whole-body fatigue

Simply put, it may take some time to retrain your muscles as they become accustomed to the physical strain of your job, and you may feel more tired throughout the day.

Weight Gain

Less movement throughout the day means fewer calories burned. Over time, this can potentially have an effect on your weight.

As companies begin to place emphasis on increasing production and meeting revenue standards, it is important to remain focused on your overall health. Consider working with your employer to investigate ways to minimize MSD risk without impacting manufacturing production and product quality.

Here are a few tips on how to reduce physical stress on your body and reduce MSD risk:

1. Review workstation inventory. Prior to the start of your shift, analyze the workstation to ensure all necessary supplies and tools are in the correct location and that the tools and equipment are in proper working condition. Report any issues to you supervisor.

2. Review Standard Operating Procedures. Reexamine standard operating procedures in order to better recall all steps in the process or prepare for the next model production. This can also help reduce errors and improve product quality.

3. Reduce non-value-added activity. Identify ways to eliminate or reduce movement waste. For example, you might change the workstation layout, rearrange the tools and equipment, or determine a more efficient way to accomplish your task.

You might need to consider ways to mechanically transport products between workstations, as physical distancing is another variable that needs to be taken into consideration to ensure employee safety. Mechanically transporting products may also reduce awkward postures like bending and reaching when retrieving products between stations.

4. Proactively communicate physical discomfort. Employees should not hesitate to communicate their physical discomfort to their supervisors. Communicating these issues can help identify and address issues before they progress into an MSD. Whether it is through weekly discomfort surveys, or ergonomics self-assessments, it is important that you express your concerns in order to avoid potential injuries for yourself, as well as fellow employees. 

5. Focus on fitness and well-being. Recognize the importance of your personal fitness and overall well-being during personal time. For example, you can try at-home workouts to maintain muscle strength and overall fitness or take daily walks to preserve cardiovascular fitness. Maintaining or increasing your health and fitness will make it much easier to re-introduce yourself to the physical demands of your job.

6. Review your work. Avoid motion waste and defect waste by adding an additional step to review your work. If you do not have time to add this additional step to your routine, work with your supervisor to add error-proofing stations. This will ensure that the work is getting done correctly, without affecting the production takt time.

7. Limit job rotation. Job rotation is generally not an effective ergonomics solution. Unless it is done in the correct manner, it has the potential to increase the workplace injury rate because it increases the number of employees exposed to high-risk jobs. In addition, it may lead to an increased spread of germs between common touch points. You may need to speak to your supervisor to make changes to the job rotation schedule so that you and your fellow employees can feel safer at work.

8. Complete general ergonomics awareness training. Complete general ergonomics awareness training or conduct your own research to understand what ergonomics is and why it is important to both the employee and the employer. Identify opportunities to learn about company ergonomics initiatives. If possible, get involved by joining the ergonomics team.

Ideally, all employee should be aware of the primary MSD risk factors and physical stressors so that they can identify potential ergonomics issues within their day-to-day jobs and report them to their supervisors. 

9. Complete an ergonomics self-assessment. If the resources are available at your facility, identify opportunities to make small improvements by completing an ergonomics evaluation of your own workstation. A qualitative ergonomics assessment tool is a simple way to identify MSD risk factors within your day-to-day tasks. 

10. Identify and report the tasks that require the highest forceful exertion and the most awkward postures. Conduct an analysis to identify the true root cause(s) of the high force or awkward postures present in your job tasks. Brainstorm and report potential solutions to your supervisor. Focus on engineering solutions that eliminate or reduce exposure to the excessive force or awkward postures. Leadership will be looking for solutions that are low-cost and high-impact.

11. Implement engineering solutions to reduce employee exposure to MSD risk factors. With many companies experiencing slower production than usual, now may be the perfect time to make changes to your workstation layout, equipment, or process. Involve your supervisor in this discussion and work together to brainstorm potential engineering solutions that are high-impact, low-cost, and can be quickly implemented. 

12. Limit overtime hours. Avoid additional stress by limiting your work hours if possible. If employers are not taking steps to limit overtime hours, express your concerns to your supervisor. Ideally, more employees should be working fewer hours, as opposed to having fewer employees work more hours.

13. Take a break. It is important to take advantage of all available breaks as you become accustomed to your work schedule. Your body may need additional time for muscle recovery and breaks from physical activity will lead to less muscle fatigue and lower risk of MSD.

When restarting work, employees should consider these tips to help reduce physical strain and discomfort on the job. Employers should review these tips to ensure that the appropriate resources are available and easily accessible to all staff. Overall, incorporating ergonomics into the reentry plan will not only help reduce MSD risk to the employees, but it can also help reduce product defects and rework, improve production efficiency, and increase employee satisfaction.

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