Integrating ergonomic principles in the design and development of cleaning processes and tools
Abstract: Many work and environmental factors can affect the health of professional cleaners In many of the work environments where cleaners are found the condition that promote various occupational diseases (e.g., musculoskeletal disorders) are readily manageable. Inappropriate and poor working postures, lack of task variation, poor ergonomic design of work places, bad design of cleaning tools and work organization (e.g., long working hours, low salaries and awkward schedules) are all areas where relatively simple interventions can dramatically reduce the rate of exposure to occupational disease. The objective of the studies reported on in this thesis were to study the cleaning process; along with cleaning tools typically used. A complimentary objective was to develop ergonomic processes that, when properly applied, were capable of improving health and product quality. This intervention strategy included design of cleaning tools in a small scale industry which manufacture manual cleaning tools and a tool/work organization intervention among professional cleaners. Six studies were carried out. These included an ergonomic workshop, redesign of cleaning tools, evaluation of cleaning tools, evaluation of improved working conditions and the development of ergonomic processes in an industrial setting. In Study I and II, participatory ergonomics approach was used to identify the problems associated with cleaning jobs and for the subsequent redesign of cleaning tools. Studies III and IV evaluated the use of cleaning tools in terms of oxygen consumption, heart rate, postural analysis, perceived exertion and biomechanical load in the trunk/torso region of the body. In Study V improved working conditions for the cleaners was evaluated within a frame work of postural analysis and perceived exertion. Finally, in Study VI a participatory ergonomic approach was used to enhance worker health, product quality and improve working conditions in an industrial environment. The focus of all studies reported is the assessment of the combined intervention strategies of participatory ergonomics and tool redesign. Results from Studies I and II and VI demonstrate that the involvement of workers through participatory ergonomics has a positive outcome through a greater involvement of workers in work processes. In Studies III IV and V the results demonstrated that awkward working postures caused by poor cleaning tool design and improper working environments/conditions can lead to high cardiovascular loading, excessive biomechanical stressors, extreme postural demands and worker perception that tasks demand relatively high exertion levels. Study VI that used the strategy of an ergonomic workshop did not have the desired positive outcome; time constraints imposed by management and insufficient advance orientation of employees appeared to be the primary reasons for the poor workshop outcome. Individual participation in ergonomic activities of workers at the same company was more positive in terms of identifying ergonomic problems and solutions. This did suggest that, when carefully managed, workshops and related ergonomic interventions can have a positive effect on a work environment. From the results of Studies I, II, and VI it can be concluded that participatory ergonomics is a useful ergonomic method in terms of identifying job related ergonomic problems and ergonomic solutions. The introduction of the participatory ergonomics approach was designed to encourage the use of participatory ergonomics in identifying problems and solutions. Typical participatory strategies that emerged were greater worker participation in tool re-design and in the restructuring of working conditions. Prior to the studies, participatory ergonomics was not in common use in the industries studies. Studies III, IV and V demonstrated that during a participatory ergonomic program, small changes in working environments and working tools can significantly reduce awkward working postures and thus improve worker comfort levels. The overall conclusion of the studies and this thesis is that the implementation of the strategy of participatory ergonomics into cleaning activities and small factories can significantly reduce work injuries, absenteeism, and compensation costs while at the same time lead to high quality of work and greater job satisfaction among a workforce.
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