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Health issues have become very frequent in different enterprises lately. Some types of industrial and office equipment proved to be inconvenient and even dangerous for health. For this reason, employees of different jobs and occupations constantly appeal to various ergonomic organizations to ensure a safe and comfortable working environment at their company.
Namely, workers of the Denver General Mail Facility in Colorado were concerned about health hazards at certain workplaces that included automated machines for mail handling. Consequently, in 1991 they asked scientists of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) to investigate the problem. The NIOSH organization carefully studied the peculiarities of the postal service and made a report on the topic.
Health Hazard Evaluation Report 92-073-2337 (1993)
It should be said that the NIOSH document named Health Hazard Evaluation Report 92-073-2337 (1993) discusses several significant ergonomic issues. First of all, special attention is paid to furniture and equipment that is used at work. Regarding the form and specificity of furniture and devices at the office, work posture and movements are also studied. Another important ergonomic issue discussed by NIOSH investigators in their report is the probability of health disorders caused by working conditions.
NIOSH: Delivery Bar Code Sorter Problem
To provide objective information, careful observation of mail processing equipment was made. Namely, a retrospective visual examination with the help of video-recorded materials from the above-mentioned Denver General Mail Facility was made. The process of work with mail handling machines was videotaped during two different months of the same year. Several devices, such as an optical character reader, bar code sorter, and delivery bar code sorter were used in the investigation. Besides, the peculiarities of rest stool usage were taken into account.
Later, two ergonomists of the NIOSH organization carefully studied the tapes. Based on the recordings they made a detailed review of the working environment and provided their conclusions concerning risk factors. In addition, certain recommendations were made to improve working conditions at the postal service offices.
As it was mentioned by Helander (2006), certain types of machine-assisting jobs may be dangerous for health. Some of them often lead to injuries and disorders of the musculoskeletal system. Elements of post office duties such as quick repetitive hand movements, unnatural positions of different parts of arms and body as well as forceful movements and heavy weight lifting were named the most hazardous at similar workplaces. Besides, constant pressure on muscles and skin and usage of vibrating hand devices were listed among the most widespread risk factors.
General Health Hazards in the Course of Investigation
Besides general health hazards caused by the specificity of posture and movements, certain inappropriate characteristics of mail processing equipment were also found in the course of the investigation. The size, height, weight, and disposition of some items of furniture and equipment did not meet existing ergonomic norms. As a result, the risk of injuries and musculoskeletal disorders was considerably increased.
In addition, it was mentioned in the report that certain groups of employees more often exposed suffer from skeletal and muscular disorders. Back strains and pains appear more often among workers, who lift heavy loads, constantly bend and twist, and sit for a long time while performing their tasks. What is more, according to Deyo and Bass (1989), employees who are overweight or have a genetic predisposition to back disorders should not be assigned to perform the above-mentioned types of tasks.
The findings of the research are described in a very detailed way. The report includes a deep analysis of two main types of mail service jobs dealing with different automated machines. These include feeders and sweepers at the optical character reader, the bar code sorter, and the delivery bar code sorter. The algorithms of their everyday work with each of the devices were analyzed according to the main risk factors.
It was stated that both jobs may lead to health disorders, especially back and shoulder injuries. Although the jobs and risk factors at all observed workplaces are rather similar, different machines influence different parts of the body and may have different levels of safety. Namely, it was stated that users of OCR sweepers may receive hands and forearms injuries, but there is less probability to injure the shoulder area. Other machines may place at risk different parts of the back, shoulders, and arms. Therefore, all of them are not perfectly designed and need improvement.
Considering the risk factors, concrete recommendations are provided in the report for both kinds of jobs and every separate device. In general, it is proposed that devices should be even more automated to reduce the number of forceful actions and unnatural bends and twists for employees. Sweeping positions are regarded as more hazardous and are recommended to be substituted by automated devices in the future. What is more, the state of equipment and safety standards at the enterprises should be constantly revised to diminish or avoid health hazards.
In conclusion, it should be said that the NIOSH Health Hazard Evaluation Report is rather informative and detailed. It provides information on every stage of a process at different workstations. Physical characteristics of equipment design as well as peculiarities of human-machine interaction are thoroughly investigated. However, the report could have also included some statistical information about the number of employees who have certain health disorders. Practical investigation of the results of workplace improvements would also be very helpful for further optimization of the working environment.
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