20 NEWEQUIPMENT.COM I AUGUST2017
by Jonathan Katz
Creaking knees, bad backs, and beer bellies aren’t he type of attributes most organizations seek in material handling or manufacturing personnel. The
reality, though, is that companies may not have many options.
Finding young, healthy workers to perform manual labor
is becoming increasingly difficult, says Jim Galante, director
of business development at Southworth Products Corp, a
maker of ergonomic material handling equipment.
“A young person coming out of a university today is not
looking to work in a warehouse,” Galante says. “They want to
sit behind a computer screen and invent the next big thing.”
“Ergonomic enhancements such as tilt tables, lifts, and
hoists make it easier for employees to maneuver parts and
equipment during assembly,” the company said in its 2016
Global Citizenship report.
Tilt tables and lifts can help reduce physical stress for mate-
rial handling workers who perform various manual tasks. These
movements may include repositioning material, moving it from
one place to another, loading a pallet or feeding a machine.
Manual material handling tasks come at a significant cost.
They account for 40% to 60% of all workers’ compensation
claims, Galante says, citing statistics from insurance com-
Within Hand’s Reach: Solutions for an Aging Workforce
panies like CNA and Liberty Mutual.
Another issue contributing to material handling-related
injuries is obesity, Galante adds. Overweight and obese
workers were 25% to 68% more likely to experience injuries
than normal-weight workers, according to a National Health
Interview survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention from 2004 to 2012.
“The effects of aging and obesity are going to have a direct
Positioning the Work
impact on manual material handling,” Galante says. “One-
third of the people waiting for jobs are obese, and many are
at least 55 years old.”
More companies are trying to address physical strains
related to manual material handling tasks by implement-
ing equipment that reduces movements, such as bending,
reaching or stretching, Galante says. This includes tools that
position employees closer to the work or brings the material
closer to the worker.
Positioning the work typically involves the use of tables that
can automatically lift, tilt, or turn. The tables can be custom
designed to handle a wide range of industrial applications,
including machine feeding, assembly, order picking and
pallet loading. For example, a lift table can raise a pallet up
to employees so they’re not bending over to pick an item
from the pallet or position the material at a work station.
“If you position the work in front of the worker, you get
“You never want the worker to raise his hands above his
increased productivity, better quality, better morale and
good ergonomics,” Galante explains. “That worker is now a
happy camper because he can do his job without having to
crawl, reach, bend and stoop to gain access to his work.”
Ideally, positioning equipment should place the work directly
in front of the employee—not to the left or the right—between
30 and 40 in. off the floor or between the shoulders and waist.
shoulders or reach down below his knees,” he says. “If I can
put the work in that zone, he’s suited to work with less stress
on his body, and he’s less likely to fatigue on a long shift.”
Positioning the Worker
For assembly or maintenance operations where workers
must access large structures at elevated or varying heights—
such as aircraft or heavy equipment—manufacturers may
want to consider custom-configured work-access lifts or
platforms that raise or lower people. Platforms offer more
flexibility and safety than scaffolding or ladders. Work-access
lifts that are designed to handle industrial applications are
a little different than aerial work platforms commonly used
on construction sites, Galante notes.
Aerial work platforms typically have a limited capacity,
usually 500 pounds or less because they’re only raising one
person. In addition, the worker can’t step off of the platform
while it’s raised. Work access lifts are more versatile. Workers
can step off of the platform at any point while it’s elevated,
and capacities usually start at 1,000 pounds.
“With work access lifts, we can carry tools, equipment and
other devices while we are raising and lowering the worker, so
we can carry things like riveting machines and large tooling
that can move up and down with the platform,” Galante says.
Beyond Safety: The Lean Benefit
Minimizing worker motion has another key benefit: waste
reduction. One of the core values of lean manufacturing is
eliminating waste. Taiichi Ohno, the father of lean manufacturing, identified unnecessary motion, including bending or
reaching to complete a task, as one of seven critical wastes.
Lifts, turntables, platforms, and other equipment that reduce
the distance between employees and their work can increase
efficiency and productivity in addition to improving safety.
“When we think of manual material handling, if we can
reduce the waste of movement, we get back the values of
lean as well as all of these other benefits,” Galante says.
Material handling tables and lifts can help manufacturers meet the needs of the changing workforce by
increasing productivity, effciency, and safety.
are designed to
help reduce the
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operators to work