Foundry Ergonomics Partnership Helps Employers Improve Safety and Efficiency
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.
Foundry Member Profiles:
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:
- Employees were bending down and lifting bags of sand off of the floor. The bags now are placed on a stack of pallets that are high enough to eliminate the awkward bending.
- The company has purchased new "doto grinders" with padded handles to reduce vibration.
- A bucket elevator and feed hopper have been replaced with an incline belt and newer feed hopper. When the old feed hopper became plugged up, employees stood on it and reached over the top using a long pole to clear the plug. When the bucket elevator became plugged, employees had to use a long handled shovel to reach and clear the clog, with the lifting load awkwardly positioned away from the body. Replacing the hopper belt required extensive tugging and pulling. The new inclined system has steps on it to allow the employee to clear any plugs much easier, and shoveling and belt repair have been eliminated.
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:
- To reduce the need to handle 220-pound castings, a Klansman Manipulator has been installed. This new equipment allows the operator to lift and transfer the castings from the skid or conveyor while sitting in the comfort of the operator’s cab. The castings are fed to an automatic shear machine that shears the vertical and horizontal profiles of the casting, which reduces the need for ergonomically stressful chipping and grinding. Not only do employees have less exposure to stressful lifting, turning, and vibration from chipping and grinding, but also the processing of castings is also much faster.
- A portable conveyor has been installed that delivers a core to the employee at waist height, eliminating the need for the employee to walk 10 feet and bend and twist to pick up the core.
- An automatic skid stacker has been installed, eliminating the need for the employees to bend, lift and twist to stack empty 42-pound core skids.
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:
- A lift table was installed in the Core Department to eliminate the bending and lifting, resulting in a reduction in back injuries. The lift table cost just $300, plus $630 for electrical installation.
- A tilt table was installed to reduce the amount of bending employees had to do when lifting castings out of product bins. This resulted in a reduction in the number and severity of back injuries. The tilt table cost $5,296.
- In the Finishing Department, ergonomics hand tools reduced complaints of hand and arm problems, at a cost of just $500 per year.
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:
- Employees throughout the foundry were lifting castings, ranging in weight from 2-110 lbs., out of baskets. This activity required employees to lift while their backs were bent at or over 90 degrees. Employees were also lifting casting off of conveyor belts, which required employees to lift above their shoulders. To eliminate these activities, ten lift and tilt units and three load levelers were purchased. The lift and tilt units cost $2,500 each, and each load leveler cost $1,500. The recovery time for these costs was 6 months. The new equipment has reduced bending, lifting and reaching, which has resulted in both a reduction of strains and fatigue and increased production.
- Employees were previously required to use a jackhammer to break up air set cores from castings, which exposed the employees to vibration and required them to bend over for four to eight hours per day. The company eliminated these conditions by purchasing a core lump crusher for $51,000. The estimated time to recover this cost was 8-12 months. With this new equipment, production has increased.
- Previously, permanent mold dies were pried open using pipes or metal bars, which caused shoulder, arm and back strain. In addition to the ergonomics hazard associated with this process, employees were often burned. To control the problem, a hydraulic opening system was installed. The cost of the new system was $3,000 to $6,000, which amount was recovered in 4-8 months. In addition to a reduced number of strain, fatigue and burn cases, production has increased.
- On one of the molding lines, two men were required to lift 75-pound molding jacket sleeves off of the molds after pouring. Shoulder and back injuries were common on this job. A hydraulic lifting device was purchased at a cost of $800. By installing the hydraulic lifting device, the risk of shoulder and back injuries was eliminated, and the process now requires one person instead of two. The company recovered the cost of the device in 2 weeks.
- The 200-600 pound mold line required employees to push the molds down the track to the end of the line, resulting in shoulder and back injuries as well as burns. An automatic mold line was installed at a cost of $200,000 to move the molds along to an automatic shakeout pan. In addition to eliminating the shoulder and back injuries and burns, the automated process reduced labor costs and increased production, allowing the company to take on more business. It will take the company one year to recover this cost.
- Previously in the Melt Department, 30-pound ingots of aluminum were manually picked up and thrown into the furnace. To improve this process, the company fabricated a pneumatic ram to feed the ingots into the furnace. The cost of the ram was $2,000, which amount was recovered in approximately two to four months. With the new process, back and shoulder strain, hand contusions and fractures, burns and fatigue have all been significantly reduced.
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:
- A new DISA 2070 molding line with a new sand system was installed. The line is operated from a control panel so that a significant amount of manual labor has been eliminated.
- The DISA mold venting operation is now done automatically, eliminating the need to manually drill the vents.
- The Auto Pour Unit has been automated. The pourer now sits in an air-conditioned control room and pours by using a joystick. With the old auto pour unit, 12 employees had to manually pour the metal.
- Automated grinders have been installed for two high volume jobs. These grinders have eliminated the need for employees to manually grind the castings.
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:
- In the core room, the core racks weigh from 900 pounds when empty to up to 4,500 when full. Previously, employees manually moved the racks from one position to another, which caused shoulder and neck injuries. To eliminate the ergonomics stressors, the racks are now moved by forklift. A flashing light system was developed to alert the forklift driver to replace the full rack with an empty one.
- The hotbox sand hopper cleaning operation presented both ergonomics and other safety risks. Previously, the employees were required to climb onto the machine and tilt the sand hopper while balancing themselves on the machine. The hopper could weigh from 150 pounds empty to 300 pounds when full of sand. A new mechanical method was developed that uses an actuator and switch to allow the hopper to be tipped for cleaning from the ground. The Ergonomics Risk Analysis Score of this operation was reduced from 40 to 0. The cost to add this control system to 14 machines was $14,000, with an estimated cost recovery time of one year.
See "Partnership Background," above