No More Back Breaking Work

3M uses a pneumatic, lift assistance device to assist employees and increase productivity.

"According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than one million workers suffer back injuries each year, and back injuries account for one of every five workplace injuries or illnesses," states an OSHA Fact Sheet titled Back Injuries -- Nation's Number One Workplace Safety Problem. In 2006, injuries related to lifting, pushing, pulling, holding, carrying, or throwing cost businesses $12.4 billion in direct costs, according to the 2008 Liberty Mutual Workplace Safety Index. In fact, it can cost an individual employer up to $65,000 for a single back injury.

"At the time, lifting, handling, and packing heavy, pressure-sensitive rolls of consumer labels for shipment at the plant was very labor intensive," says Joreski. "Workers might handle a couple hundred rolls per shift, each ranging from 50 to 250 lbs., which could wear them out or expose them to potential lift injury," explained Jim Joreski, a maintenance supervisor at 3M's Medina, Ohio plant.

The plant turned to a pneumatic, lift assistance device that was tailor-made with an attachment for gently handling rolls in a range of sizes without damage. 3M provided an initial training to its employees, which taught best practice use of the equipment for efficient operation and injury prevention.

After buying its first pneumatic, lift assistance device about a decade ago, the plant has added several more over the years. "Since installing the equipment, we've eliminated lift-related injuries in that part of the plant process," says Joreski. "Productivity is up about 40% over the previous method, and there's no problem with operator fatigue or repetitive motion injury."

Joreski appreciates the safety features built into the equipment. For drop protection, for instance, a series of sensors assure the load cannot be released until it's placed. If there's ever catastrophic air loss, the device slowly lowers items held to the ground, protecting operators and eliminating product damage.

Because the system is all pneumatic, operated by a single shop airline, it eliminates electric hazards such as shock from frayed wires. It also avoids running costly electrical connections in the working area.

"From higher productivity alone, a study showed payback on our equipment in about two years, but payback could be immediate if it prevents even one back injury," says Joreski. "It has saved wear and tear on our people and boosted morale."

Richard Hunt is CEO of AirOlift Lifting Systems, which custom manufactures product clamping, vacuum lifting and manipulating systems.

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