How to avoid injuries: Packaging Industry and Ergonomics

The word “ergonomics” comes from Greek language. It originates from the word “ergon,” meaning work, and “nomos” meaning “laws.” Today this term refers to the art of “designing the job to fit the worker, rather than forcing the worker to fit the job.” Ergonomics cover many different aspects of a job: From the physical stresses a job places on muscles, joints, tendons, nerves and bones, to environmental factors like noise, lighting, temperature, air moisture and other factors that can affect human health.

In the world of packaging, focus is on the packaging solutions. Focus is on cartoners, case packers, tray packers and palletizers. Even though the main purpose of packaging is protecting the product, we shouldn’t overlook the importance of protecting the workers as well.

Ergonomic Injuries In Packaging Industry

Manual packaging operations often require employees to stand in one place, doing repetitive movements. Some packaging operations demand heavy lifting or unnatural postures. All workers that handle packaging operations manually are in the risk of repetitive motion injuries — injuries caused by doing the same movement again and again which strains the body part. A research paper published earlier this year, “An Ergonomic Investigation of the Case Packing Line at Company XYZ” gave us these insights on the types of injuries and their impact when it comes to manual case packing operations. The most common injuries, according to the paper, were connected with the wrist (caused by cumulative trauma disorders, such as carpal tunnel syndrome and tendonitis) and the back (the result of improper lifting techniques). But these injuries don’t harm only the worker. According to Bureau of Labor Statistics, workplace injuries can cause significant loss of productivity for example:

• 3,277,700 total reportable injuries; 965,000 of those injuries resulted in absence from work

• 379,340 injury reports involved sprains, strains, and tears; 11% of those injuries (43,100) happened to workers in the manufacturing industry

• 195,150 back injuries were reported; 10% (20,540) occurred to employees in the manufacturing industry (v)

How can we prevent this? There are two possible solutions: training and automation.

Helping your workers to develop right ergonomic work habits cannot cause any harm. It might be wise to advise your employees to:

1) Avoid long reaches (over 16 in.);

2) Keep hands and elbows down;

3) Avoid using the first three inches of the work surface;

4) Avoid tilting the head forward greater than thirty degrees;

5) Avoid tilting the upper body forward;

6) Change posture occasionally.

Training doesn’t change the work process, so certain risks remain. This is where automation kicks in, so think about these improvements for your packaging line in order to avoid repetitive motion injuries and other hazards:

• Don’t make the workers erect cartons by hand — acquire a case erector. You will increase the efficiency, and also eliminate the chance of repeated-use injuries.

• Use the case sealers which automatically apply tamper evident security tape to packages to prevent repetitive use injury due to hand taping of cases.

• Use a robotic automation solution to reduce the ergonomic risks of both the manual case packing and palletizing processes. You can leave all the repetitive work to a robot and human intervention will be needed only to run the machine and re-load the case magazine. When it comes to palletizing, a robot can handle the case lifting and stacking motions so there is less risk of injury to personnel. Even assembly processes include repetitive motion that can lead to carpal tunnel syndrome or tendonitis, but luckily, robots have what it takes for assembly and material handling processes, so you can reassign your workers to duties that are less likely to cause injury.

Bottom line: By reducing the risk of injury to your personnel, you can increase profitability, which may, among other things, allow you to stay where they are, instead of relocating your factories somewhere where wages are lower. If you take the human factor in consideration, you can easily calculate how much money you can save only by keeping your workers safe. Do the math and you will clearly see the ergonomic advantages of automating manual processes.

So, do something nice for your business and people that work for you, and check out Tishma Technologies’ cartoners, case and tray packers and palletizers — each of them with their unique set of modular add-ons for full automation of the packaging process.