An old Spanish proverb says: “Anybody who is too busy to bother about their health is like a craftsman who doesn’t have time to look after his tools.” And he will pay the price for that – perhaps not immediately, but definitely at some stage. Transferred to the modern world of work, this means that corporations, which do not bother to maintain the productivity of their workers and ensure that the work is well designed, will not withstand the competitive and cost pressure in the long term. Productive and healthy – the lectures and discussion forums at this year’s MTM Users Conference in Heilbronn demonstrated that work can involve both issues and has to in the light of demographic change.
The huge level of feedback proves that the issue of ergonomics reflects the spirit of the times. Work in itself is not something bad, said Prof. Dr. Ralf Bruder, Head of the Institute of Ergonomics at Darmstadt University of Technology, prefacing his remarks.
“If we engage in work design, that means designing something positive so that people can say: I like going to work – I enjoy it.” Bruder has no doubts either that health is becoming an increasingly important asset.
But who assumes the responsibility here? Is it every man for himself? And should an employer be responsible for employees? Bruder says that this is at least the common goal of ergonomics and industrial engineering. “Performance and human wellbeing are equally important design goals – and they can be combined,” the Head of the IAD stressed. What needs to be done to enshrine ergonomics in corporations involves four things, in his view:
- using the correct assessment tools,
- using the process more consistently at a corporation and avoiding isolated solutions,
- integrating ergonomics in the product development process in order to be able to plan ahead and
- planning in line with skills – i.e. using the right employee at the right place.
Ergonomics – predictable and clear
At this point, Bruder referred to EAWS, the assessment tool jointly developed by IAD and MTM to analyze ergonomic risks at work stations (see article on EAWS User Group – page 15): “We wanted a process, which does not just show whether something is going wrong, but also says how the problem can be removed.” Because any ergonomic measures need to be predictable and clear to all those involved.
Bruder appealed to those attending the users’ conference and asked them to support the process of standardization for this assessment tool in actual operating practice. The elements of predictability and clarity play an important role when integrating the ergonomics analysis in an operating work system.
Dipl.-Ing. Sylvia Goeres from the IT division at VW is working on an assessment of the biomechanical risks at work stations in vehicle assembly and incorporating the analysis in the working system at VW in terms of IT – known as the WP (or work plan). She explained the best practice situation for dynamically calculating the level of stress based on the EAWS points system.
This means that if the work content changes or processes alter, the change in ergonomic pressure is automatically shown too – this is the best way of reporting on ergonomic issues on the basis of key indicators. Sylvia Goers says the aim is to distribute the pressure in such a way that the traffic signal is always green.
Communications are the key element
Jürgen Hennemann, works council chairman at FTE automotive in Ebern, argued in favor of a more rigorous analysis of the issue of performance. He stressed that when unions discussed the issue of “good work,” then it should be in the sense of “working in a dignified manner.”
To achieve this, performance standards need to be changed, he said, and greater consideration should be given to employees with restricted performance levels. In the light of what he called the “dynamization of performance standards,” reliable factors and an overall consideration of the term “performance” are necessary.
Hennemann argued that ergonomic stresses and strains should not be rewarded in monetary form, but with recovery times and organized exercise breaks. The most important thing, he said, was to involve employees in the design process for their work stations and talk to them. The rule of thumb could only be: improvements through good work, rather than lower prices through poor work.
Good work is more than ergonomics
Ergonomic stresses and strains at a work station are mainly reflected in sicknesses involving muscolskeletal disorders. One employee in three, according to Dr. med Klaus Wentzel, Senior Physician at the Orthopedic Clinic in Bad Schmiedeberg, now complains of having back pain.
Designing “good work” in his eyes involves both reducing heavy physical work and also preventing time pressure and stress. Creating a constructive, respectful working atmosphere, which enables employees to identify with corporate goals, is just as much part of this process as promoting social contacts and offering sporting activities. They are all issues covered by the Initiative for New Quality in Work in Production (INQA), in which MTM is involved too.
Dr. Christoph Hecker, from the Wood and Metal Professional Association in Mainz, described the spheres of activity and tasks of the INQA and invited those attending the users’ conference to actively help with identifying and spreading best practice methods when designing work in a humane manner. MTM offered two information seminars at the users’ conference. Firstly, the Dresden Software Center introduced the TiCon® MTM software and various modules. Those who were interested had an opportunity of gathering initial experience in handling the software at several test stations. Many were interested in finding out more about office engineering with MTM. At least 30 participants gained information on introducing and setting up a business process management system with MTM in an office, administration or services environment.
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