Ergonomics keep base workers straight

  • Published
  • By Jenny Gordon
  • Robins Public Affairs
Helping workers to better understand how they perform their daily tasks is one role of the Warner Robins Air Logistics Complex's Ergonomic Program.

But, improving overall quality of life in the workplace could be its most direct and lasting benefit.

"Ergonomics is about making the work fit the individual," said Eric Fowler, ergonomic technician. "A lot of times what we do - whether working at a desk or on an aircraft - is position ourselves to the work. Our goal whether we're doing an office or an industrial assessment, is to get workers in the right position to eliminate or reduce any type of health issues or ergonomic risk."

A small and busy team of ergonomic professionals perform daily workplace assessments in about 147 office buildings and industrial shops in the complex - representing more than 8,400 people.

Their ultimate goal is to find solutions to assist employees, whether they sit at a desk, lay on their backs under an airplane part, or repeatedly stand and sit in a maintenance shop.

When a technician visits an office site, an assessment can take about 20 minutes of observation. Techs look for such things as seating, keyboard and mouse positioning, how workers view a document (if it's laying flat on a table, etc.), and take into account risks associated with the work performed.

There have been many success stories over the years which have eliminated ergonomic risk in various shops. In the C-5 Tire Shop, for example, back injuries years ago had been associated with the lifting of heavy tires.

The use of a lifting device has now greatly reduced any associated risks to injury.

It takes a lot of coordination and communication among mechanics, supervisors, safety personnel, engineers and others to understand and problem solve before a final solution is made, which involves understanding workplace processes.

The Ergonomic Program team recently had an opportunity to showcase what they do, as Brig. Gen. Cedric George, complex commander, visited the F-15 Canopy Shop Aug. 17.

Mechanics demonstrated the use of a unique project that was installed just two weeks ago. A prototype of an air water system was designed using a dental syringe with the help of Staff Sgt. Jason Stobaugh, a biomedical equipment technician in the 78th Medical Group.

The end product has been met with much fanfare in the way work is conducted. It's already made a difference in the shop's work processes.

In the past, a worker would fill up a spray bottle - which in itself took time as these are repeatedly used throughout a work day - and spray the aircraft canopy as it was being sanded and buffed.

A new Pumpless Air Water System, the first of three to be installed in the shop, has helped to alleviate repetitive motion from squeezing the bottle trigger, and saved time and several other steps. Materials such as cloth wipes will also be eliminated since the new system, which resembles what a dentist uses in an office, includes an air dry hose.

"It's amazing that you can come up with an idea, and the ergonomic folks run with it," said Michael Daley, F-15 Canopy Shop sheet metal mechanic. "We come up with ideas, tell them, and now we have what we need. I feel good knowing as a mechanic that there are people who care about the way we do our jobs."

"We identified an ergonomic risk - and we realized that the application would work," said Fowler. "It's important for us to find a solution - and get it to the workers as quickly as possible," said Fowler. The shop, like many others across the complex, has also been assisted through the years with such helpful tools as ergonomic chairs, step-stands, a ZeroG mechanical arm to maneuver tools and parts, and more.

This has been a success story for all involved, and just shows how working a simple idea can lead to a well-designed system. But the work must continue until the next great invention. So far this year, ergonomic staff members have performed 635 assessments throughout the complex.

They have a long waiting list of more to do.

Workplace assessments are conducted on a regular basis throughout the complex in offices and production areas.

"We hear feedback all the time on the difference we're making just by educating workers on simple adjustments," said Belinda Brown, ergonomic program manager.