The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) reported recently that it had sent two ergonomics specialists to the Massachusetts plant of a building products distributor to conduct a health hazard evaluation (HHE). The Blue Linx Corporation asked for the HHE because of concerns that several material handlers in the company warehouse may have been at risk of back or repetitive motion problems.
The workers fill warehouse orders and deliver over 6000 different building products to some 50 stores in the immediate area. The typical tasks of the warehouse workers include picking boxes of nails weighing approximately 50 pounds that are stored on pallets located in warehouse racks, picking vinyl siding in boxes stored horizontally on two levels of “key racks,” and picking many styles of molding, which can be up to 16 feet in length.
The NIOSH ergonomists found that the order pickers generally used good ergonomic practices while lifting the building products, but said they could face an elevated risk of back and other musculoskeletal injuries if the volume of work increases or workers stray from their current safe practices.
“As a rule of thumb, the jobs studied will begin to increase in risk when and if lifting frequencies approach one or two lifts per minute on average, as opposed to less than one lift per 5 minutes or less, as was the case during the evaluation,” the report says.
In such scenarios, NIOSH points out that rotating workers to non-lifting jobs would be “a practical measure for injury control.”
For the infrequent situations when lifted loads approach 51 pounds