Achieving Success with EAWSMultiMo

Ergonomic assessment for long-cycle work activities
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To create ergonomic work stations the DB Fahrzeuginstandhaltung GmbH combines 2 methods: EAWS (Ergonomic Assessment Work Sheet) and activity sampling frequency study.

The names of Walter Gropius, the architect and founder of the Bauhaus movement, which is on the UNESCO world heritage site list, Hugo Junkers, who revolutionized the development of aviation with his aircraft designs, and Friedrich Lutzmann, the early designer and automobile pioneer, are closely linked to Dessau-Rosslau, the third largest city in the German state of Saxony-Anhalt. The Opel brothers purchased Lutzmann’s vehicle factory in 1899 and started building cars with him in Rüsselsheim. But the city also has a long tradition linked to maintaining heavy-duty railway vehicles: locomotives have been repaired here since 1929. The workshop is now part of DB Fahrzeuginstandhaltung GmbH and is responsible for heavy-duty repair work on electric locomotives and their components within the DB Group.

DB Fahrzeuginstandhaltung GmbH with its twelve workshops is one of the full-service providers in Europe and has the necessary size, the required experience and the latest technology that are needed to maintain railway vehicles in the best possible manner – whether this involves overhauls that are due, repair work after an accident, reconditioning components or modernization projects. DB Fahrzeuginstandhaltung GmbH looks after approx. 350 locomotives, 300 multiple units, 750 passenger coaches and other types of vehicles and their components and it employs approx. 8,400 people at its plants and workshops.

A new approach has been developed at Dessau-Rosslau to create ergonomic work stations for the many long-cycle work activities: an assessment with EAWS (Ergonomic Assessment Work Sheet) using the results of an activity sampling frequency study.

An enormous workshop, which is almost 20 meters high and more than 200 meters long, welcomes any guest arriving at the Dessau-Rosslau facility. More than 20 old and new locomotives, ranging from the workhorses of freight transport operations to local and long-distance traction units, are situated on the two sides of a working pit with a traveling platform and an overhead gantry cross beam. Most of the vehicles have the classic DB fire red color, while others have the colors and logos of outside customers. But they all share one thing: Most of their machine workings have been stripped out of them and they look like skeletons. The employees care for the inner workings that have been removed in a different workshop. 2,000 components are available for processing. The material storeroom has 30,000 items and the reconditioning of all the components takes no less than one million working hours per annum.

Ergonomics in vehicle maintenance

There are major fluctuations in working tasks, the scope of work and the technology that is used at the Dessau works and the other maintenance workshops, depending on the degree of damage to the vehicle, the customer’s requirements and the scheduling. The employees often face the following problems:

  • restricted access
  • many actions involve contorting their bodies in a fixed position
  • permanently turning their upper body
  • a great deal of physical effort by their arms and whole bodies
  • frequent manual handling of heavy weights (moving, carrying, pulling and pushing)
  • unfavorable ambient conditions, e.g. high noise levels

The ergonomics consultant, Denes Kukawka, advisor on production optimization, and Tino Schaller, Head of the Production Optimization Department, have been successfully working with two partners for some time as part of a project involving all the business centers and entitled “Work Stations Suitable for People as They Grow Older” – the average age of the industrial employees at all the 12 maintenance workshops is about 50. Vitality Solution GbR and its sports research staff are providing support for company health management with an emphasis on behavioral ergonomics; and there is close cooperation with Dr. Steffen Rast, Head of the Ergonomics Department at the German MTM Association, with regard to developing an all-round approach to include ergonomic findings. The joint aim is to create work stations that are suitable for people as they grow older and also cope with demographic change and its shift in age structures. Two things are important here: the economic efficiency of the work activities and a reduction in the physical stresses and strains.

Sisyphus work for long-cycle work activities

Initial successes have already been achieved for short-cycle work activities by using ergonomicsExpress. But this system was overstretched when it came to long-cycle work activities because of the special working conditions involved in maintaining railway vehicles. “An assessment with the EAWS process would be ideal to professionally determine the stresses and strains involved in body postures, handling heavy loads and the pressure on the upper extremities, which are particularly subject to stress at our workshops. But it’s necessary to have a comprehensive database of the types of stresses and strains, the load levels and the duration of stresses and strains if we’re going to assess matters with this procedure. We also have to cope with work stations involving long-cycle work activities of between 100 and 1,000 hours per job. It would be necessary to permanently observe the work activities over a fairly long period in order to gather the data. This would consume a large amount of time and trigger major costs, so we gave consideration to some alternatives,” says Kukawka, explaining the need to approach the problem in a completely new way.


The idea of combining two established methods was developed with Mr. Rast: This involves gathering data with an activity sampling frequency study and assessing the ergonomic results that are obtained with EAWS – i.e. together this creates EAWSMultiMo.

        All the types of sequences, like symmetrical or asymmetrical body postures, are determined in line with what is required in EAWS. Variable ergonomic factors like handling heavy weights, using tools, restrictions on access etc. serve as further observation criteria.

The normal full data collection process envisaged in the EAWS process has been replaced by an activity sampling frequency study. The ratios of types of sequences, which are determined with a statistical certainty of 99%, are then transferred to the EAWS assessment process and a reliable risk analysis for the working area that is under observation can be generated relatively quickly.

“The major advantages are the lower expenditure and the flexibility of use,” says Kukawka, describing his initial experience with this combination of methods. “In the classic EAWS method, any interruptions in the recording process like company vacations or absence caused by sickness are not a problem. Seasonal fluctuations in orders can be taken into account in the assessment process too.”

“So we’ve combined the advantages of both processes in this way – thorough and exact data collection with a manageable time limit on the observation period and with quality levels with reliable statistical rates! And by filtering the data in different ways, various scenarios can be assessed in terms of ergonomic risks.”


“There are a number of other possible applications arising from combining the two methods – the activity sampling frequency study and EAWS – for other departments and sectors too. This combination of methods is particularly suitable for many areas of use, especially for long-cycle work operations that occur on an irregular basis,” says Kukawka, who believes there is further potential for using EAWSMultiMo.


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