Safer and healthier methods in intralogistics
Handling heavy goods is part of everyday life in the production, retrieval, and storage processes of many companies. Signs of wear are the consequence, particularly among the employees. So it is little wonder that operators of warehouse facilities are increasingly focusing on the creation of ergonomic workplaces.
Ergonomics in the workplace should not be seen by companies as a burdensome mandatory task. This is especially the case in view of the ever aging workforce and the skills shortage that is also affecting the field of storage logistics. As such, it is becoming ever more important to create an environment for employees in which they are as unhindered as possible when performing their tasks – and when it comes to the subject of ergonomics, this includes providing working conditions that are as safe and healthy as possible. In the field of intralogistics, this especially means reducing the stress on the musculoskeletal system.
The physical stress placed on employees is incredibly high in many industries. Average loads of ten kilos per unit are often moved, with the upper limit sometimes as heavy as 20 kg or more. This shows that there is still more to do when it comes to lifting and carrying, despite all the information available about ergonomics in the workplace. The German lawmakers make their requirements clear in this regard: “The employer must … take appropriate organizational measures … to avoid the manual handling of loads which pose a risk to the health and safety of employees” (§ 2, Paragraph 1, German Load Handling Act (LasthandhabV)). The loads involved mean that an employee sometimes has to pick up to 15 metric tons of goods per shift using conventional equipment. The following areas of the body are subjected to particular stress when handling the loads:
- Skeletal system (spine, joints)
- Muscular system (arms, thighs, back)
- Cardiovascular system
As a result of the intensive work-related physical stress, employees within the industry suffer from musculoskeletal problems particularly frequently, leading to high costs and loss of productivity for companies caused by sickness and absence. These costs can be cut and working conditions simultaneously improved by using auxiliary equipment to pick heavy loads ergonomically. Accordingly, the following should be taken into consideration when manually handling loads:
- Reduce the physical stress
- Assess the individual physical requirements of the job and the employees’ state of health
- Follow instructions relating to health risks and ergonomic lifting and carrying and implement measures to avert these risks
This is also one of the main reasons why many companies have reviewed their approach and are now increasingly focusing on the health of the employee. An ergonomically designed workplace is of primary importance for reducing the number of employees absent due to sickness and excessive stress.
In addition to the health aspects, there are also economic reasons for establishing greater ergonomics in the workplace, because these measures help companies to increase productivity. The use of labor-saving measures at the interface between man and machine is especially important in the area of warehouse technology, because the demands placed on the employees and the production resources are particularly high here and are also permanently present due to the high picking rates. If the processes are managed in line with the ergonomic goods-to-person principle, labor-saving measures such as the use of automated shelf storage systems and the integration of hoisting cranes into the storage systems can significantly improve productivity in terms of costs and speed. The advantages of the system are clear:
- Ergonomic optimization of workstations and work processes
- No travel or waiting times thanks to direct delivery of the goods
- Faster and more accurate retrieval and picking
The increase in the efficiency of internal processes achieved by using these aids means that even expensive investments pay for themselves within a short space of time. In addition, costs attributable to absent employees who are unfit to work can be prevented or at least reduced. Companies have also realized that their attractiveness as an employer increases considerably as a result of being able to offer an ergonomic workplace. Comfortable and appealing workplaces thus become an image-related matter, giving companies an advantage in the competition for workers.
What helps to cut costs caused by sickness-related absence?
Automated storage and retrieval systems attach a great deal of importance to ergonomics in the workplace. The goods-to-person principle associated with the units not only saves the employees from traveling long and exhausting distances to retrieve goods – with conventional storage solutions it is not uncommon for employees to cover distances of fifteen kilometers and more in the course of a shift. In addition, the goods are delivered to the employees at hip height – the ergonomically ideal area – via the access openings in the units. Bending and stretching movement that are likely to cause injuries – especially with heavy items – are no longer necessary, which means that one of the main causes of employees being unfit for work (injuries or signs of musculoskeletal wear) is no longer an issue. This leads to a reduction in costs due to sickness-related absence. Furthermore, the measures also lead to a cut in insurance premiums for occupational health and safety cover.
The LR 35 Vertical Buffer Module from Kardex Remstar is a good example of how intralogistics manufacturers are paying attention to ergonomic aspects when developing new storage systems: The turntable on the unit, which is designed for the fast picking of single parts, is tilted at an angle of twenty degrees, making it especially ergonomic for the employees, who expend less energy operating the system and storing and retrieving goods. While the operator picks one item, the next bin or tray is lined up on the rear shelf of the turntable. As soon as the picking process is complete the turntable turns through 180 degrees and the next bin is ready for picking. In addition to the optimal ergonomics, this enables 500 order lines to be processed per picking station and hour, making the LR 35 an efficient solution for the fast picking of small parts. This is where the link between ergonomics and efficiency in the area of storage logistics comes full circle.