Five Steps to Improve Productivity and Morale

Productivity has been the mantra of the industry for the last two decades – and it’s not stopping anytime soon. The U.S. Census Bureau reports positive gains for May 2017, total construction spending is up 6.1 percent from May 2016. The result is that companies are implementing new tactics to meet the high demand. Prefabrication, with its substantial time saving benefits, is becoming more prevalent as part of those new tactics. When utilizing prefabrication methods, it must be paired with knowledge and implementation of good ergonomics to recognize those time savings. Prefab gains can easily be offset with labor downtime and high injury/workers comp expenses.
In prefab shops where repetitive motion is the norm, poor ergonomics is a major cause of worker fatigue and discomfort. Fatigue and discomfort caused by poor ergonomics can result in injuries, lost time, and significant setbacks to a job’s timeline.
There are several factors that can lead to poor ergonomics: bad habits, such as slouching or hunching over; inefficient and time-consuming workflows; ill-designed workstations that force workers to strain themselves to complete the task; improper use of a tool, causing a muscle strain; and tools that are difficult to move. Below is a quick list to help identify trouble spots and easy solutions to mitigate the problems. The goal is to decrease fatigue and injuries, while increasing productivity.

Fatigue and pain can occur simply due to poor posture. If a workstation is too low, a worker will be forced to bend over to complete the task. If not addressed, potential health problems caused by poor posture can include arthritis, degenerative disc disease, herniated discs, muscle strains, and low back pain.
The Fix: Adjust workstations to the appropriate height to encourage proper posture. Standing postures are used almost exclusively in the electrical trade. The correct position is characterized by a straight back, relaxed shoulders, upper arms by the side and elbows bent about 90 degrees. Workers will be able to perform tasks with little wasted movement, leading to time savings along with reduced fatigue.

Electrical prefab shop operators often have multiple work areas to bend, thread, and cut conduit, and those at the jobsite may have to leave the building for certain steps. Having multiple workstations is labor intensive and increases the potential for injuries. Moving between workstations not only wastes time, but it also increases strain on feet, knees, and the lower back. If floors are slick from oil or littered with extension cords and debris, these hazards increase the risk for a stumble or a fall when moving between workstations. Expanded work spaces may also require workers to reach for the tools they need to perform the task at hand. Reaching away from the body increases torque on multiple joints, including the lower back. Back pain is a common problem and can severely impact the morale and productivity of a worker. 
The Fix: Consider positioning workstations as close as possible, which may include combining workstations, to eliminate wasted motion while speeding up production. It is important to eliminate carrying material long distances between workstations to decrease the risk of knee bursitis and lower back pain. Look for workstations with storage and organization options to help keep floors clear. Additionally, arrange a workstation with the heavier, more frequently used tools close to the worker. This will reduce the need for awkward extension of arms or leaning/twisting of trunk.