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Ergonomics Case Study: The Dow Chemical Company's Use of the "Six Sigma" Methodology (May 2004).
Problem: Reduce musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) among computer workstation in Dow's Design and Construction (DDC) business unit.
Solution: Use "Six Sigma" to identify the primary contributing factors of MSDs among computer users and take steps to reduce those contributing factors by 70 percent. The following summarizes how Dow applied the Six Sigma methodology to reduce MSDs at its DDC business unit:
Step 1: Measure. The project team outlined the sequence of events involved in computer workstation use and then identified a series of key variables (primary contributing factors) for MSDs, including: user attributes (e.g., daily time at workstation), user behaviors (e.g., posture, force), and environmental factors. The team conducted surveys of computer users on these variables and used the survey results to establish a baseline.
Step 2: Analyze. The team analyzed the survey data to determine differences in workstations, work environments, training, and behavior. The team then identified possible and probable root causes underlying these variables using several Six Sigma tools and methodologies. Examples of probable root causes identified included: failure of employees to recognize the importance of ergonomics compliance to his/her personal well-being, lack of adjustable furniture, and lack of ownership in personal safety by employees.
Step 3: Improve. The team implemented a series of improvements to address the root causes, including upgrading the workstations. The team developed a novel approach to raise employee awareness on the importance of ergonomics by collecting testimonials from employees and posting them on Dow's Intranet site. Other improvements included designation of Ergonomic Focal Points and Ergonomic Coordinators, who were Dow employees who volunteered to get specialized ergonomic training and be available as a first point of contact to other employees with ergonomic concerns and questions.
Step 4: Control. The team developed a long-term control plan to sustain the improvements.
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