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Assembly-line Ergonomics: Customizing Workstations in Industrial Settings

Monday, September 21, 2009
By Anne Kramer

Industrial settings like assembly lines and manufacturing facilities present unique ergonomic challenges. Employees often spend long periods standing, performing repetitive motions over the course of their shift. Ergonomic interventions significantly reduce the physical impact of these industrial tasks. Customizing the industrial workstation from the bottom up provides extra support, decreasing work-related repetitive stress injuries and increasing productivity.

Ergonomics from the Ground Up

The first step is creating an ergonomically sound industrial workstation is to incorporate anti-fatigue flooring. The floors in most industrial settings are hard, non-porous materials like concrete or tile, which means they offer no padding or traction. Anti-fatigue mats offer an excellent solution:

  • Anti-fatigue mats reduce the stress placed on joints by long-term standing. They cushion the floor, taking pressure off feet, ankles, and knees.
  • Slip-resistant mats decrease the likelihood of workplace falls. This feature is especially important in environments where the floor frequently gets dirty or wet.
  • It is important to look for a mat with a tapered edge, so that the mat itself does not pose a tripping hazard.
  • If anti-fatigue mats are not a viable option, anti-fatigue sandals like Ergo Mates fit over the shoes and provide a built-in anti-fatigue surface.

An Alternative to Standing

Because most industrial work spaces are designed for standing, the work surfaces are often positioned too high to accommodate a standard office chair. This can present a problem because it does not allow for alternation between sitting and standing, nor does it allow flexibility for workers of different heights. Ergonomic equipment accommodates both sitting and standing, eliminating stress on joints from maintaining static posture.

  • Extra-tall ergonomic chairs can be paired with a footrest. Since both chair and footrest are adjustable, the workstation can be tailored to meet the needs of anyone, regardless of height.
  • Industrial footrests are specifically designed to withstand extra pressure from standing workers, who may prop up one foot at a time. Their slip-resistant finishes add additional stability.
  • Cushioned arm rests are especially important for industrial workstations, because they allow workers to rest their elbows and forearms, reducing stress on the shoulders, neck and back. Most chair arms can be retrofitted with gel armrests, for added support and cushioning.

Ergonomic Work Surfaces

Even if replacing an existing work surface with one that offers adjustable height is not an option, other strategies can be used to adapt existing work surfaces. The key is to provide adequate forearm support and to remove hard edges.

  • For workstations that are exclusively designed for standing, articulating forearm supports can be affixed directly to the work surface. These devices encourage proper posture for the elbows, forearms, and wrists.
  • Wedge supports offer stackable, removable padding for the wrists and forearms. These are often ideal because they take up little space on the work surface and come in a variety of sizes.
  • Edge protectors can be applied directly to the work surface, to provide comfort for wrists and forearms. Especially useful for industrial applications like component assembly, anti-static edge protectors are also available.

The industrial workplace poses many ergonomic obstacles, because it often revolves around the standing workstation. With the proper ergonomic adaptations, however, they industrial workplace can be safer and more productive.

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