It can take a single forceful movement to trigger a back complaint, so Johnson Matthey has been developing better group wide ergonomic practices...

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It only takes a single forceful movement to trigger a back complaint. Just as likely, continuing poor posture, repetitive movements or bending during a manufacturing process can lead to musculoskeletal problems. Another common cause of physical demand is the tendency to overreach, putting pressure on the spine, joints and muscles.

Already in evidence across the company were positive local responses to Johnson Matthey's high level Environment, Health and Safety Policy, with some excellent ergonomic initiatives in place. Yet up until now, there had been no global guidance specifically on this topic. Clearly more had to be done as musculoskeletal conditions account for around half of the cases of occupational illness in the company and about a quarter of lost time accidents. Reducing the number of these cases contributes to achieving two of the company's six sustainability targets.

Partnering with Humantech

It was the right time to act. Change was underway on all Johnson Matthey sites as they began to implement 'lean' manufacturing techniques – a system that improves workflow and makes work tasks more efficient. It made sense to add a further dimension of ergonomic risk control. Johnson Matthey partnered with Humantech, a leading US ergonomic consulting practice. Humantech understood the need to scrutinise work tasks and workstations – taking a detailed '30 inch view' – and worked with a number of Johnson Matthey's sites to develop case study material of typical tasks to use in training sessions.

A New Approach to Ergonomic Programmes

Humantech's design guidelines, with assessment tools in seven languages, were made available on the corporate intranet. This meant that the new approach to ergonomic workplace programmes could be cascaded across all sites around the world. Humantech helped the Johnson Matthey project team to write a new policy and guidance and run three day training sessions in North America, Europe and Asia for local ergonomic improvement champions. The champions gained skills in ergonomic assessment and problem solving. In this way, better ergonomic processes are being made sustainable, with local people empowered to roll out change.

Training Our People

The training targeted operations people, engineers, lean champions and other personnel who have continuous improvement roles, as well as health and safety professionals. As part of the drive, facility ergonomic improvement teams are being set up and given the role of spotting and fixing existing ergonomic problems. The teams will also apply ergonomic principles to the design of new or modified work processes – the best time to get the ergonomics of work tasks right.

Better ergonomics means better productivity and a healthier workforce. This supports the overall aim of achieving efficient, comfortable and low risk tasks to meet both Sustainability and Manufacturing Excellence targets.