Body blow: ergonomics in the workplace

15 May 2016

Kattaiya Karthikeyan, Kavati Phebe Aaron, Kaliappa Krishnaraj and Bangaru Chandrasekaran of the Centre for Leather Apparel/Accessories Development, CSIR-Central Leather Research Institute, deliver a study and evaluation of occupational health, musculoskeletal disorders and safety among workers in the cutting section of leather goods manufacturing industries using rapid entire body assessment (REBA) techniques.

Ergonomics play a key role in the performance and effectiveness of workers in any organisation. In the past few years, occupational health and musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) have been considered to have a major impact on the health and economy of any organisation as well as the nation as a whole. The aim of this article is to find out the occupational health and MSD risks among the work force in the leather goods manufacturing industry. It also aims to show the awareness among the workers of the correct posture at the work station and the physiological condition of workers in determining the ergonomic factors of the work station.

The fatigue and safety issues caused due to improper position and posture of the human body in line with the work station plays a pivotal role in the health and safety of the workers. The tools used in this study are rapid entire body assessment (REBA). The study was carried out among 73 workers in the aged 21–55 in the cutting sections of leather goods manufacturing industries who were clickers and manual cutters. Comparison of current procedure was followed with respect to the actual ergonomic procedure that is prevailing among the workers. The data collected was analysed, interpreted and validated for the issues related to MSDs.

Health check

Work-related MSDs were first noticed by Italian physician Bernardino Ramazzini, who documented the disorders that he saw in workers with “insistent and irregular movements in unnatural postures”. These work-related disorders of the neck, shoulder, lower back, upper limbs and locomotory organs continue to be of interest to workers, researchers and companies due to the significant temporary or permanent disability of workers; symptoms such as pain, numbness and tingling; time off from work; reduced productivity; increased worker’s compensable costs; and the increasing number of associated cases coming before the courts.

Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences’ (MUHAS) Larama MB Rongo states that the workers in small-scale industry (SSI) reported ergonomics-related injuries and illness ranging from eyestrain and headaches, to musculoskeletal ailments such as chronic backache, neck and shoulder pain. No ergonomics guidelines are known for SSI. However, awareness of ergonomic principles among workers in welding, spraying, painting, woodwork and carpentry and metal works are needed. The levels of awareness of ergonomics principles are low among workers in SSI compared with office workers. So, immediate measures are needed for the awareness of ergonomics principles in SSI.

Work-related MSDs affect one million people each year and the most common problems are back pain, neck and upper-limb disorders, repetitive-strain injuries and lower-limb disorders.

Work-related MSDs affect one million people each year and the most common problems are back pain, neck and upper-limb disorders, repetitive-strain injuries and lower-limb disorders. In the private sector in the US, nearly six million workers experience non-fatal injuries or illness. For preventing these injuries, the cause of load exposure and those aspects of the task or job that should be redesigned must be identified in order to eliminate or at least reduce that exposure. Therefore, immediate attention must be provided to those individuals.

Any delay in such cases may result in very lengthy treatment with a long rest period and could also incur other sufferings such as financial losses to the individual, his/her family, surroundings and the community in turn. Work-related MSDs have become a major problem in many industrialised countries. The aim of this study is to minimise the work fatigue among the workers in the industries.

In this study, an effort has been made to understand and to study the various work-related MSDs among the workers in the cutting section of the leather-goods manufacturing industries.

Materials and method

S Hignett and L McAtamney developed the whole-body and upper-limb assessment tool named rapid whole body assessment (REBA). The data is obtained by analysing the process in the neck, trunk and leg as one category and the second one is arm and wrist. Depending on the body position and the awkward postures, the scores are given. REBA has added on points in analysing the whole body postures. Analysed data are grouped into separate categories as mentioned in Table 1, REBA scores (see above). No special equipment is required for this process as it is very simple and confined to workplaces without disruption to the workforce.

A team visited the SSI to study the work postures of the operators in the leather-goods manufacturing industries. This study helps the ergonomists to understand the day-to-day activity of the worker and the postures, safety and health issues pertaining to it.

Subjects were studied during their regular workflow in actual setup, as this was to get the real-time data. During this process, it not only helped to understand the activities in the normal setting but also gave a clear idea about various postures. The major postures for the studies are side, back and top. The posture of the operators was captured using a camera placed on a tripod set to the required views. The images were further analysed for the detailed studies.

Results and discussions

In the cutting section, the work is done in the standing position and the worker cuts thick leather used for the creation of leather goods. As the thickness of the leather is greater than may be standard, it directly requires the maximum load in the cutting process. The basic cutting tools that are normally found in an SSI are either a small sheet of metal sharpened at one corner or a cutting blade with a plastic holder.

As these tools are not ergonomically designed, it directly applies stress on the upper surfaces of the fingers that are in direct contact with it.

As these tools are not ergonomically designed, it directly applies stress on the upper surfaces of the fingers that are in direct contact with it. During the continuous repetitive process, there is deformation in the shape of the fingers. Other major causes of injuries during this operation are scratches and wounds to the operator’s hands and fingers.

The height of the tables and the inclination in which the cutting operation is done also affects the body posture of the operators. The cutting area of the table is also taken into consideration. The angle at which the operator does the cutting and the speed at which he/she cuts the leather is also taken into consideration. The tables are standard sizes and the height of the operator to the tables is not ergonomically designed in many cases as they are not aware of the prolonged consequences. As in most of the cases, the study was done in an SSI and space was a major concern in those companies. This makes an uneasy and unsuitable workplace for the cutting operators in the leather-goods manufacturing industries.

In the pattern-making section, a major operation in cutting leather, pasting and stitching is done by a sample maker. In this case, cutting takes more time since the samples are done for the first time and the speed of the operation is also slow. The strain acting upon the eye is also to be taken into consideration.

The REBA chart gives the details of the analysis of the work done by the operators in the cutting and clicking section of the leather goods manufacturing industries. Table 2, REBA scores among the workers in the industries (see page 24), shows the percentage ratio of the group in which they fall as a result of the calculation done with the REBA method. All the cutters fall under the category for Group 4 in the cutting section, whereas 10% of clickers fall in Group 3 and 90% fall in the Group 4 category.

Implications to consider

The tools that are being used by the operators in the cutting section are made up of hardened steel and the impression of these tools are marked on the finger. Apart from this, the data obtained from REBA indicates that the workers are in the zone of risk related to an MSD. The vibration from the clicking machine, which is caused by the repetitive operation, also has a major impact on to the operators. The body position while working in this operation is a major concern and has to be taken into account.

Vibration-absorbing gloves need to be provided to the employees and a proper technique is to be used in such a way that the vibration caused by the clicking machine is arrested. In the case of the cutting operators, finger gloves have to be provided and flexing of the fingers and palm at regular intervals has to be initiated as a practice.

Regular breaks during the operation cycle have to be given to the operation and they have to flex the muscles during work. Neck and arms have to be relaxed as they are the major areas where the strain concentration is maximum. Awareness among the workers of safety and health is to be initiated so they understand the consequence and magnitude of its impact. Apart from this, there is scope for designing an ergonomic cutting tool for the cutters in the SSI. REBA is a simple tool for studying work-related MSDs and that can be used by a SSI for analysing the body postures of the workers in any particular industry. This would help in improving the productivity, as well as the health and safety among the operators in the respective organisations. ?

Ergonomics of the human body need to be considered when a large amount of one’s day could consist of standing and operating machinery in the leather industry.

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