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Ergonomic Improvements in Manufacturing

Joe, the plant manager was reviewing plans for a new production line. Abbott had developed a new product, the A-drug delivery pump. The A-drug pump was very similar in terms of design and weight characteristics to the X-drug delivery pump, a product that had been manufactured at Joe’s site for the last several years. Both pumps weighed about 26 pounds.

Certainly because of the similarities between the new product and the old pump, the initial plan was to construct a line very similar to the X-drug pump line. While this seemed a cost effective approach, Joe was concerned because the X-drug pump line has been plagued with manually intensive tasks associated with product handling, testing and inspection. These tasks included product lifting and transfer, awkward posturing, close visual inspection and repetitive motions. These tasks had lead to multiple OSHA recordable cases in the past. Exhibit 1 details workers’ compensation cases for 2000-2003 for the X-drug pump line.

One problem Joe faced was to redesign the X-drug pump line, but that was a problem for another day. Joe’s immediate concern was the new line. The costs for the new line were estimated around $100,000.

Joe wanted to create a proposal for a more ergonomic line than the X-drug pump line but was concerned about how much additional capital costs could be justified above the base estimate of $100,000.

Exhibit 1 – OSHA recordable cases for the X-drug pump line

Description of case Workers’ compensation costs
Reaching pump from top of the cart $800
Lifting pump from line $57,000
Repetitive lifting of pump $55,000
Repetitive assembly work $10,000
Repetitive cleaning of pump $22,000
Label removing repetitive work $800
Repetitive lifting of heavy boxes $2,500

Ergonomic Improvements in Manufacturing (B)

Abbott spent an additional $20,000 on ergonomic improvements above the $100,000 capital costs required to implement the basic line. The A-drug pump production line was outfitted with multiple material handling items including portable lifting tables, product handling turntables, single shelf product carts, conveyor systems, foot rests, ergonomic chairs, automated presses, tool fixturing, and grip enhancements. Implemented in 2002, there have been no OSHA recordables for the A-drug pump line.2

Ergonomic Improvements in Manufacturing Teaching Notes

This case demonstrates the importance of designing safety into a production line. Even though ergonomic changes represented a 20 percent increase in costs, the extra $20,000 was less than a severe workers’ compensation case such as from an injury while lifting a pump ($55,000 in 2000).

1This case is based on information provided by Abbott in 2003. This case was prepared as part of an Alliance between Georgetown University’s Center for Business and Public Policy, OSHA, and Abbott. Participation in an Alliance does not constitute an endorsement of any specific party or any party’s products or services. This case was prepared as the basis for class discussion in the "Business Value of Safety." The decision maker and his associated thoughts and actions are fictionalized, and product names have been disguised.

Source: OSHA

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