Formed to address ergonomics hazards in a foundry setting, the Foundry Ergonomics Partnership (Partnership) includes six foundries in OSHA’s Region V, the OSHA Area Office in Appleton, Wisconsin, associated labor unions, and the Wisconsin Health Consultation Program. The Partnership’s successes include substantial reductions in injury and illness rates and increased awareness of ergonomics risks among employees and management. The foundries involved have also experienced significant savings from increased productivity and/or reduced workers’ compensation costs.
The foundry industry, which relies heavily on manual labor, has a high rate of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) and other ergonomics-related injuries. Tasks often involve material handling, moving heavy equipment, awkward reaches, and the use of pneumatic equipment, such as grinders or sanders. The foundry members of the Partnership had all worked independently to reduce these risks at their facilities, but were not satisfied with their individual results. These employers wanted to take their ergonomics programs to a new level by pooling their resources and drawing upon the expertise that OSHA and the Wisconsin Safety Consultation Program could provide.
The foundries approached OSHA’s Appleton Area Office with the idea of forming a Partnership to address ergonomics injuries in the foundry industry. Ultimately, six foundries, including Neenah Foundry, Waupaca Foundry, Brillion Iron Works, Roloff Manufacturing, Manitowoc Grey Iron Foundry, and Wisconsin Aluminum Foundry, joined the Partnership.
From the beginning, the foundries determined that they would only accept active members who were committed to achieving the Partnership’s objectives and willing to invest significant time and effort. The Partnership’s agreement requires representatives from each foundry to serve on the Partnership Committee and complete training in the signs and symptoms of MSDs and the identification of ergonomics risk factors. To determine what processes to address through the Partnership, the foundries analyzed their OSHA 300 logs, workers’ compensation cases, and other injury records, and performed walk through inspections to identify ergonomics stressors and risk factors. The foundries are also required to develop a comprehensive safety and health management system to address ergonomics hazards and submit the program to the Wisconsin Consultation Program for review and guidance.
The Partnership Committee members meet quarterly, and at least three members of the Committee conduct on-site visits to evaluate the foundry processes. After data is collected, the Committee meets to review and develop possible solutions, aided by their collective expertise and that of the Wisconsin Health Consultation Program, and with input from the OSHA Ergonomist and Heath Response Team if necessary.
The end result of these efforts is the development of a best practices handbook that provides possible solutions to ergonomics hazards, incorporates examples of "real world" successes and failures, and includes information on both the cost of controls and the savings and other benefits realized.
Employee involvement is an important part of the Partnership. Each foundry member of the Partnership has established an ergonomics/safety committee, which includes employee members who participate in the on-site ergonomics abatement activity at the establishment and make recommendations to the Partnership Committee. Employees also receive training on signs and symptoms of MSDs and appropriate control measures.
Some of the foundries in the Partnership have seen significant reductions in injury and illness rates. These reductions have subsequently led to a decrease in workers’ compensations claims and associated costs.
In addition to reduced injuries and illnesses, the foundry members have noted an increase in employee and management understanding of ergonomics as processes are reviewed and evaluated at the foundries. The foundries now take ergonomics into consideration whenever a new process is initiated or equipment is replaced or modified. New purchases are evaluated for their ergonomics impact, and employees are more likely to come forward with suggestions or concerns.
One way that the foundries have reduced many of the MSD risks is by replacing manual processes with automation. In most cases, the increased automation has also increased productivity, which often offsets the cost of the process improvement. Employee morale has also improved because the automation has eliminated many of the more difficult aspects of their jobs, such as heaving lifting, pushing, and pulling. As a result, it is expected that employee retention rates at the foundries will improve over time.
When making ergonomics improvements, the foundry members can now draw upon each other’s expertise and learn from each other’s mistakes. As new ergonomics initiatives are implemented, the members share both their successes and failures with the Partnership. As a result, the other members can determine which changes work best, and which do not work at all, without a significant investment up front. When the foundry member group needs additional guidance, they can draw upon the technical resources of the Wisconsin Safety and Health Consultation Program and/or OSHA.
Roloff Manufacturing is a smaller foundry operating as a "job shop," where workplace conditions and ergonomics risks change from job to job. The company attempts to conduct self-inspections at least once a month, which include a check for ergonomics problems. President Dave Roloff cites increased communication and employee awareness as key benefits of the Partnership. He notes that "people in the plant are more inclined to give suggestions on how equipment will affect their bodies."
The following are examples of ergonomics concerns that have been addressed:
Neenah Foundry has approximately 1,000 employees and conducts safety and health self-inspections, including ergonomics hazard identification, every 6 weeks. Safety Director Tom Shallow emphasizes that the company has made a "top-down commitment" to ergonomics and the Partnership’s efforts. He notes that the company’s engineers now look closely at ergonomics in their redesign plans. Some examples of changes made to the plant include the following:
Manitowoc Grey Iron Foundry has been in business since 1860 and has approximately 80 employees. Safety Director Rob Peaslee points out that the company’s participation in the Partnership has been a "smart business move," since reducing labor intensity has produced a number of good results. He notes that the company has gone 36 months without a lost time accident, and employees are much more actively involved in the safety process. Manitowoc’s purchasing department now reviews all purchases with ergonomics in mind. The company has received input from insurance carriers and health care specialists when evaluating work processes and plant layout, and has made in-house physical therapy available to employees.
The company has also made the following changes:
Wisconsin Aluminum Foundry, with approximately 390 employees, conducts monthly safety and ergonomics inspections with the help of an outside consultant. The company has reduced its workers’ compensations costs by 76.6% over a two-year period. Jim Behnke, Safety Manager, also notes that employees are not as fatigued at the end of the day now that some of the heavy lifting has been eliminated.
Examples of some of the changes that Wisconsin Aluminum Foundry has made to reduce their ergonomics injuries and illnesses include the following:
Brillion Iron Works operates two foundries and has approximately 800 employees. Safety Director Scott Hugue emphasizes that the company saw the Partnership as "a fantastic opportunity to improve our workplace" utilizing straightforward tools and training.
The company is currently implementing a $12.8 million dollar modernization to one its plants, and is incorporating ergonomics initiatives into this process. Changes made during this modernization process include the following:
Waupaca Foundry is made up of four separate foundries that are all participating in the Partnership. The company’s workers’ compensation costs have been decreased dramatically, from $148,722 in 2000 to $33,681 in 2002. Each of the company’s four foundries conducts ergonomics inspections annually, and addresses specific ergonomics problems as they arise.
Waupaca Foundry has made the following changes:
See "Partnership Background," above
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