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Reducing Repetitive Motion Injuries in Your Packaging Department – Part One

- March 11, 2016 by Brian Piñon, CSP (View all posts by Brian)

Whether it’s the manual palletizing of boxes, reaching out to remove poor quality product or guiding bags through a sealer; repetitive motion is a common risk impacting packaging departments across industries. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median number of days away from work due to occupational injuries was nine in 2014. In contrast, it was more than double at 23 median days for workers who suffered specifically from repetitive motion injuries!

Given these stats, it follows that repetitive motion injuries will tend to have a greater impact on your workers and your business—compared to the average occupational injury. For part one of this series, I will be discussing how engineering controls and job rotation can help you reduce the frequency and likelihood of repetitive motion injuries in your packing department.

Engineering Out Repetitive Motion Risks 
Eliminating the need for manual repetitive motion should be your first consideration. This can be expensive, but many of my clients have found that less injuries and lower workers’ compensation costs over time are well worth the initial investment.

Robotic palletizers and case packers are great examples of engineering out worker exposure to repetitive motion. If this is not feasible for your operation, engineering controls can also be used to limit, rather than eliminate, the likelihood of an injury. Primarily, this is accomplished by designing your workstations to minimize awkward postures that increase the strain on joints and muscles during repetitive job tasks.

Whenever possible, the work should be directly in front of the employee and at their resting elbow height. Examples would be angling conveyor lines that slide product in close to where the worker can more easily reach it, adjusting the height of a conveyor line, or gradually adjusting the height of pallets as workers manually palletize product to eliminate the need for bending and stooping.

Job Rotation
Creating a schedule to rotate workers in and out of workstations requiring repetitive motion both reduces individual worker exposure and allows for a recovery period for muscles and joints. A rotation schedule should be developed based upon employee feedback and an assessment of the task’s bodily impact.

In part two, I’ll discuss how training and accountability can help create a culture of safety and further reduce repetitive motion risks in your packing department. For an assessment of the repetitive motion risk within your organization, contact your ICW Risk Management Consultant.