Every day, millions of workers worldwide lift, twist, reach, push and pull. Inevitably, some get hurt. The world's most efficiently run manufacturers understand better than most the drain injuries place on employees, and on corporate profits. Companies interested in improving productivity, quality, morale and employee health while reducing injuries employ multi-faceted programs to aggressively address the issue.
Consider The Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. In 2004, the Akron, Ohio, tire maker was the safety leader in the global rubber manufacturing industry. Still, 27% of Goodyear worker injuries worldwide -- nearly 50% in the U.S. -- were the work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WMSDs) that consistently plague millions of factory workers. Today, Goodyear has cut its global OSHA incident rate by 52%, and realized improvements in profitability and employee engagement with the help of an enhanced focus on ergonomics.
Introducing the 30-inch View
Much of the improvement correlates to the implementation of a unique ergonomics improvement process strategically inserted into Goodyear's operations and culture. Since January 2005, engineers from Humantech Inc. of Ann Arbor, Mich., have teamed with Goodyear employees at key plants around the globe to implement a comprehensive initiative called Ergonomic Centers of Excellence.
Essential to the success of this major initiative is the deployment of a unique business perspective called the 30-inch view, which drills down to the intersection between plant associates and their work environment. Thirty inches is essentially the distance that a person's arm extends from the shoulder to interact with his or her work environment.
The program relies on building internal ergonomics expertise, respectful employee engagement and ongoing collaborative improvement. Of course, the 30-inch view is different from the well-known 30,000-foot view of business strategy. Companies such as Goodyear have come to view the immediate workspace as "the last mile," the last, best chance to make measurable improvements in workplace performance.
In late 2004, Goodyear made a crucial decision to improve safety. The company embarked on a global analysis of performance and identified targets for improvement.
It was a massive undertaking. Goodyear, one of the world's leading tire companies, has a presence on six continents and annual sales of $20 billion. In addition to Goodyear brand tires, its offerings include tires under the Dunlop, Kelly, Fulda and other names. Goodyear markets its products in 185 countries, manufactures them in more than 90 plants in 28 countries, and employs more than 75,000 associates.
Being a global company with a diverse work force, Goodyear's ergonomic initiative had to be consistent, effective and culturally adaptable. It had to demonstrate both a reduction in incidents as well as a return on investment. Goodyear partnered with Humantech to take its ergonomics program to a new level by integrating it with the company's existing and very successful continuous improvement processes and establishing Ergonomic Centers of Excellence.
At the outset, Goodyear and Humantech developed an Ergonomics Process Standard, which clearly defines internal expectations (requirements) for ergonomics, who is responsible, and how progress will be measured. They mapped out a strategy that was linked to Goodyear's continuous improvement process and applied Six Sigma's five steps to safety:
- Define: Establish a common goal for improvement and metrics to track process. Establish needed resources including a support infrastructure.
- Measure: Identify and assess tasks for ergonomic risk. Determine the level of exposure to risk.
- Analyze: Evaluate and identify hazards. Evaluate new tools and processes for risk.
- Improve: Control risks and hazards in the workplace. Validate reduction of risk.
- Control: Monitor, review and maintain controls.
Given the number and diversity of Goodyear operations, officials decided the long-term plan would focus on select locations each year, and be initiated in four phases:
- Establish common tools and approach. In addition to the Ergonomics Process Standard, officials selected common assessment and tracking tools to ensure consistent measurement and tracking. Consultant engineers conducted workshops to engage both plant leadership and leaders of the ergonomics process. Together, they developed implementation plans for their respective sites.
- Engage associates and make quick improvements. Consultant engineers led rapid improvement activities to make quick, simple changes in the workplace. This approach engaged associates, improved the workplace quickly, and started the momentum for the ergonomics process.
- Establish a sustainable improvement process. Key associates took special training to develop the skills to conduct ergonomic risk assessments and design/implement solutions in the workplace. This phase established a sustainable improvement process that could continue long after the consultants left the plant.
- Follow up and audit the process. Finally, officials audited each ergonomic process against the criteria to ensure the plant met company expectations.
To improve the chances of success, Goodyear started with five pilot plants. They were selected for different reasons including; high incidence of work-related musculoskeletal disorders (need to do it), interest of plant management (want to do it), type of operations/products (opportunities for improvement), and agreement with labor (commitment to do it).
A Systems Approach
Based on the pilot implementations, Goodyear designed an Ergonomics Center of Excellence (ECOE) model, which allows for a systematic rollout that includes:
- Site visits by an ergonomics consultant. The purpose is to align expectations with the project charter.
- Conduct RAPID events. RAPID events are a form of Kaizen tactical activity that makes swift, measurable and relevant improvements to the workplace, eliminating non-value-added work elements.
- Follow-up audits to ensure that the process aligns with Goodyear's internal process document.
- Training for all team members, which includes plant manufacturing, functional leadership and floor employees.
Since the kickoff, 10 sites in the U.S. and four in Europe have implemented the entire ECOE process. Another nine sites in Europe will launch the process this year. In addition, nearly 60 sites in the U.S., Canada, and Latin America have implemented RAPID events to begin to address ergonomic-related continuous improvement opportunities even before the full-fledged improvement process is in place. To build a solid foundation and ensure sustainability, more than 2,000 hourly and salaried associates have been trained in the Goodyear ergonomics process.
The most important achievements have come in the form of risk reduction. Since January 2005, more than 3,600 identified risks have been eliminated from the workplace through the ergonomics improvement process and RAPID events. Improvement in the workplace have improved so that reaching, bending and lifting are more tolerable, motion and workflow is more efficient and tooling and machines are easier to handle.
Data collected from the RAPID events have allowed for engineering design improvements. Through the shared Risk Priority Management (RPM) software application, teams of associates, continuous improvement, leadership, engineering and medical, as well as global health and safety staff, are better equipped to identify, track and manage risk and improve efficiency.
The program at Goodyear illustrates that a successful ergonomics improvement process must be integrated into existing continuous improvement systems. It also shows how taking a 30-inch view of the workplace enables companies to improve conditions at the personal level, which when added together, can have a significant impact on an organization's safety performance, employee engagement and overall continuous improvement.
For companies that take such a view of their workplaces and look for opportunities to improve ergonomic conditions of the workplace, they might be surprised with how much impact they can have.
Walt Rostykus is a vice president with Ann Arbor, Mich.-based Humantech Inc., a human performance consulting firm specializing in workplace ergonomics since its founding in 1979. Rostykus is a board-certified professional ergonomist, certified safety professional, and certified industrial hygienist. The 30-inch view is a service mark of Humantech Inc. For more information, visit www.humantech.com.