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Inevitable Ergonomics: Standard Smarts

There certainly is a proliferation of standards and standard-making organizations these days. From color to prepress to quality control and beyond, standards are imperative for productivity in our continuing technological revolution.

The problem with standards, though…Well, that explicative leads to many questions: Who makes them? Who updates them? Who implements them? And now especially — in our computer-based global village — a standard for you in Wilmington, OH, may certainly not be a standard for you in Madras, India. Just who ensures we're all following the same standard?

But the chasm between standards isn't always that geographically wide. In the US alone, material handling, ergonomic, and safety standards, for example, may vary a great deal within one company.

“There are many different safety philosophies in the industry,” explains Mike DeRosier, corporate product safety manager at Paper Converting Machine Co. (PCMC). “For example, when Kimberly-Clark bought out Scott Paper…” DeRosier pauses, “well, their philosophies were different.”

He says merging assets of large companies such as Kimberly-Clark and Scott Paper is a difficult undertaking at best and can be an ordeal at worst. Among the “assets” that must be merged are products, people, and standard operating procedures, including ergonomic, safety, and material handling guidelines. “It can be a nightmare for those corporate safety guys to have to [make every operation] get with the program,” DeRosier explains.

Driving Which Program?
“Getting with the program” would be a heck of a lot easier if everyone followed the established one, but again, what is that?

While here in the US, we can be bound by the OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) general duty clause, the manufacturing sector almost experienced an ergonomics standard with the Clinton administration's passing of OSHA's controversial ergonomics rule. This rule, says Cindy Roth, CEO of Ergonomic Technologies Corp. (ETC), “was fraught with problems.”

With the current administration's reversal of the ergonomics rule in spring 2001, and with war, terrorism, and recession occupying our leaders and our headlines, ergonomic issues have taken a back seat.

But, warns Roth, in this ergonomic-awareness lull, don't fall asleep at the wheel. “It's important to recognize you don't ‘do ergonomics’ because of regulation. You ‘do ergonomics’ because it makes good business sense.

But even with no specific rule in place, most agree ergonomics, material handling, and safety are issues in which you are going to have to continue to invest time and money.

“In general,” states Chris van Haasteren, VP, Schlumpf, “manufacturers have seen the proverbial ‘writing on the wall.’” He reports converters indeed are still investigating these issues, despite the repeal. “I think it's caused companies actually to focus on costs, for now and the future. We're still experiencing a lot of companies coming to us for seemingly insignificant applications — for handling rolls or spools, where weight is almost insignificant, but it's an ergonomic issue, because the operator has to handle hundreds throughout a day. It's these repetitive-type, long-term type injuries that make people willing to automate and eliminate operator risk. In the long run, the costs associated with personnel are much higher than costs associated with machinery investment,” van Haasteren adds.

Mission Impossible?
Try as we may to match standards on a local (much less a global) scale, these standards by which we handle materials, implement safe and ergonomic practices, even live, govern, create, work, exchange documents, interpret color (the list possibly is infinite), all can vary — and probably will — if ever so slightly.

This seems to be the challenge of technology today: to make a one-size-fits-all standard…for everything.

But as sales rep Keith Hamilton, Deacro Industries, points out, “You know, just about everyone has unique requirements. [When we supply auxiliary material handling equipment with our slitters], we find there is no ‘one size-fits-all.’”

At least not yet.

Click here to learn more about about ETC's web-based software "Ergotivity."

Paper Converting Machine Co., Green Bay, WI; 920/491-6637;

Ergonomic Technologies Corp., Syosset, NY; 516/682-8558;

Schlumpf Inc., Windham, ME; 877/460-4535;

Deacro Industries Ltd., Mississauga, Ont., Canada; 905/564-6566;

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