|Installing standing platforms and adjustable-height isolators can make equipment suitable for workers of all sizes. Photo courtesy of AstraZeneca.
As technology and automation transform pharmaceutical manufacturing, the human factor is often overlooked. New production equipment and manufacturing spaces may be cramped or inadequately designed, while work schedules and operating procedures often fail to consider workers’ physical needs and limitations.A common example of a mismatch between human abilities and task design is when employees sit parallel to a filling or packaging line, instead of facing it. This position is usually taken because there isn’t enough knee and leg space under the machinery, but sitting parallel to equipment results in twisting and reaching, increasing the likelihood of stress or musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs).Ergonomics prevents situations like these, by evaluating worker abilities and limitations and taking them into account in designs. Key MSD risk factors include:
- awkward posture
- contact stress
All of these risks are commonplace in pharmaceutical manufacturing, and may affect the bottom line, by reducing productivity, morale and product quality.More manufacturers today recognize the importance of integrating proactive ergonomic solutions into their business processes (see BEST PRACTICES FROM AROUND THE WORLD
, below). “We used to be focused on training employees just to be aware of ergonomic issues,” says Robb Patterson, ergonomics team leader at Pfizer Global Manufacturing’s Kalamazoo, Mich. site. “Today, we’re getting our engineers to think about human factors during the design stage.” The industry is moving from a reactive to proactive stance towards ergonomics, Patterson says.Good ergonomics foundations
Successful ergonomics programs are systematic and sustainable, and put in writing. They include clear goals, focus on risk, and are integrated into existing processes and operations. They must be measurable, visible and focused on continuous improvement.More sophisticated workplace ergonomics programs share the following characteristics:
- management commitment and support
- extensive training on risk factors and ergonomics
- hazard analysis and control
- strong medical management
- regular program evaluation
If any ergonomics program is to succeed, it must be viewed, from top to bottom, as a good business decision. Ergonomics programs that operate as “one-off” fixes or grass-roots initiatives fail to change the manufacturing culture.U.S. regulatory requirements for ergonomics are generally limited to the General Duty Clause. Except for a few state OSHA programs, ergonomics programs are recognized as a best practice by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), and other organizations.The preferred method for controlling risk factors is through engineering controls. Engineering controls involve a change in the physical features of the workplace, and might include reducing the weight of objects, changing work surface heights or purchasing lifting aids.When engineering solutions are not feasible, administrative controls are used. These controls are less effective than engineering controls because they don’t eliminate the hazard. They include longer rest breaks, using more employees to perform lifting or certain tasks, and improving maintenance for tools and work areas.Work practice controls such as personal protective equipment (PPE), are also used, but are the least effective methods, since the employee is still exposed to the risk factor.