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Why Investing in Ergonomic Material Handling Equipment Pays Off

Jan. 11, 2024
A focus on material handling ergonomics can reduce workplace injuries and boost worker productivity.

What you’ll learn:

  • What options people can explore in ergonomic manual handling equipment
  • What benefits users and companies can expect from using such products

Many supply chain leaders understand they must invest in material handling ergonomics solutions to keep their companies competitive. Doing so is a practical way to reduce workplace injuries while improving productivity and worker satisfaction. People can look forward to other measurable benefits, too.

Cope With Increased Customer Demands

Having a workforce in top physical condition that can do tasks without strain makes companies better able to face elevated order numbers or broad industry trends keeping products in high demand. Such was the case at one of the largest makers of portable fire pumps and water-handling equipment.

Increasingly severe wildfires made its products frequently necessary for military troops, firefighters and others handling the blazes. As the business prepared to move to a new location, decision-makers approved several factory changes to support ergonomics.

A conveyor was a key component of the improved setup. It accompanied a workstation with a parts bin, where workers test products to ensure they meet performance standards. Modular pipe-and-joint structures kept fasteners at the right heights so workers could reach them without stretching or straining. This new factory arrangement prioritized material handling ergonomics while enabling better efficiency. Those outcomes allowed the band to maintain high output and customer trust.

Scaling up to meet customer needs isn’t easy, but improvement will minimize the pain and strains that can gradually make workers perform at less than their best. A smart practice to try before investing in specific products is to analyze employees’ roles and the associated movements and postures. Studying specifics like repetitive motion, tasks requiring reaching and stooping and workstation heights can show the responsible parties which changes would bring the biggest benefits.

Raise Accuracy Rates and Reduce Workplace Injuries

Leaders are eager to see how products supporting material handling economics could improve a facility’s processes. At contract logistics company GXO, they ran a pilot for a system that combined headsets with wearable barcode scanners. Decision-makers appreciated the setup’s ergonomic design and how picking information displayed clearly for wearers.

Improved accuracy was the most notable benefit, with workers making 75% fewer mistakes during the seven-week trial. They were also about 10% more efficient when using the solution.

Wearables differ in functionality depending on which organization makes them. Many allow people to improve their focus because they no longer need to carry around accessories such as handheld scanners. Instead, a worker might glance down at their wrist or see the necessary information in front of their faces while using smart glasses. Then, accidents become less likely because people stay highly aware of their environments, making them better able to avoid obstacles and adapt to situational changes.

The co-founder of one wearable ergonomics item got revolutionary ideas after working as a site reliability engineer in the mining industry. The sites he oversaw used sensors to prevent the breakdown of critical machines. His wearables startup takes a similar approach by offering products that reduce workplace injuries by alerting staff who make non-ergonomically-friendly movements.

Its data suggests its technology causes an 86% reduction in ergonomic injuries affecting the shoulders and back. Other benefits include lower workers’ compensation costs and employee turnover rates.

These wearables provide real-time tracking of all movements and give haptic feedback, allowing a user to make instant corrections. They also show leaders areas for ergonomic improvements. One British warehouse using it had 30% lower incidents of spine risks per hour, showing how frequently workers may engage in risky movements without realizing it.

Empower Workers to Be More Productive

Prioritizing material handling ergonomics can unlock process improvements leaders hadn’t previously considered. For example, using a mother-daughter tug system allows workers to connect and transport multiple loads. Some options let people make trains of up to 10 carts, keeping the widths required to turn corners or go down aisles. Paying attention to seemingly smaller aspects—such as the carts’ caster designs—is a practical way to ensure ergonomics and maneuverability.

Exploring options for automating tasks is also worthwhile. Leaders at a Lockheed Martin factory realized the existing processes for moving airplane parts between areas were too inefficient. They budgeted for an integrated machine tool transfer line that brought a 34-hour reduction in the time required to send fuselage parts between workstations. It also significantly minimized using an overhead monorail system that required crane operators and floor workers to rig the parts before transport.

Beyond installing the transfer line, leaders studied individual tasks to find the best ways to make those duties more ergonomically friendly. One example involved using an automated drill to create several hundred holes in a material. Conventional drilling can increase the risk of repetitive strain, even if people know and practice the right ways to curb such outcomes. Workers need breaks to prevent issues, but automated solutions often run continuously during business hours.

Positioning ergonomics as an important part of a logistics organization’s culture could also help workers feel more valued, increasing the chances they become long-term parts of the team and encourage people they know to work there. Relatedly, workers will begin viewing ergonomics as everyone’s responsibility, coaching colleagues in practicing safer movements or learning new ways to put less stress on the body.

Make Material Handling Ergonomics a Top Concern This Year

No matter a logistic company’s typical output or the types of goods it processes, decision-makers must begin recognizing how material handling ergonomics must be a primary improvement driver across the business. People can then expect to reduce workplace injuries, increase productivity and help employees reduce errors during picking or other similarly intensive tasks.

Leaders will get the best results by answering some basic questions. Those include how much they can afford to spend, whether the whole team or just some workers will use the chosen solutions and how soon the brand will implement the new equipment or technologies. Solidifying those aspects helps the responsible parties proceed confidently and research the most appropriate options to meet current and future needs.

Those planning and implementing the ergonomic upgrades must keep all employees involved, too. Getting feedback and giving them enough time to adjust to process changes will inspire feelings of recognition and support.

About the Author

Emily Newton

Emily Newton has eight years of creating logistics and supply chain articles under her belt. She loves helping people stay informed about industry trends. Her work in Supply Chain Connect, Global Trade Magazine and Parcel, showcases her ability to identify newsworthy stories. When Emily isn't writing, she enjoys building lego sets with her husband.

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