What’s the role of ergonomics in the food industry?

Alberta’s food production industry is growing. According to the Alberta Government, “Alberta’s food and beverage industries form the province’s second largest manufacturing sector, employing approximately 25,500 people with sales of more than $13 billion.”

Ergonomics in the Food Industry

Where does ergonomics fit into this? EWI Works ergonomist Annie Barnwell recently explained in her talk, “Ergonomics in the Food Industry: Methods to improve Return on Investment & Reduce Injuries” to the Alberta Food Processors Association.

Musculoskeletal Injuries (MSI) account for 49% of Loss Time Claims in Alberta. MSI are injuries and disorders of the muscles, nerves, tendons, ligaments, joints, cartilage, and spinal discs.

These injuries may develop over time or result from an instantaneous event such as a single heavy lift. Annie encourages “Health and safety professionals and ergonomists to consistently identify hazards due to poor ergonomics, not just risks.”

This means assessing where they may be a potential risk for injury, such as repetitive movement or poor setup.

Convincing companies to implement an ergonomics program may be difficult, but sometimes looking at the cost of injuries can drive change.

For example, a seafood processing plant in eastern Canada noticed their WCB claims were higher by leaps and bounds versus industry rates.

Research examined if a knife sharpening program would reduce injuries. The program included decreasing cutting forces, increasing recovery time, and fewer cuts per minute.

The results were astonishing. The amount of claims decreased to normal industry rates and productivity increased by 17% after 6 weeks. In this case study, ergonomics was a great return on investment.

Showing a return on investment can move beyond incident rates. Consider sick-days, retention rates, and employee satisfaction rates. In addition, include measures of productivity. As Annie pointed out in her presentation, “ergonomics can and should also improve productivity.”

So how do we overcome barriers in the workplace? First of all, raising awareness early. Strains and sprains need to be discussed as part of new employee orientation. And, as Annie recommends, “encourage everyone at all levels to take MSI awareness training so that everyone is informed”. In addition, sustain initiatives by incorporating these principles into daily activities to the point that people don’t need to think about it.

Training offered by EWI works:

Back Care Training Upper Extremity Injury Prevention Tips MSI Awareness Training Office Ergonomics Awareness Training Customized Training Sessions, and more.

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