Building company strength through ergonomics

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A. Sue Weisler

Kate Winnebeck, left, and Tracy Freas have developed an outreach and education program that provides ergonomics assessment and training for companies in New York and outside the state.

When most manufacturers search for ways to save money, company safety and ergonomics programs are often overlooked.

Safety and ergonomics are exactly where Tracy Freas, senior staff engineer, and Kate Winnebeck, senior environmental health and safety specialist, encourage companies to focus.

Freas and Winnebeck lead RIT’s Occupational Safety and Ergonomics Excellence program at the Golisano Institute for Sustainability.

“From a broader perspective, we’re helping a company stay in business by educating them to recognize current and potential hazards,” says Freas. “In turn, avoiding safety and ergonomic hazards bring fewer loss days, lower worker-compensation expenses and improve production and quality.”

Since 2004, the program has trained more than 12,000 employees throughout New York state and is primarily funded by grants that offset the cost to companies for their assistance. In addition, many of the recommendations for improvement are low or no cost.

Together, Freas and Winnebeck provide safety and ergonomics outreach and education building in-house knowledge to make the connection between safety and profitability. Training predominantly focuses on team building tools for sustainable and effective safety and ergonomic practices that result in a financial gain, Freas says.

“A fresh set of eyes can help companies realize the potential that ergonomics and safety training can provide,” she says. “It can improve production, quality and morale associated with muscle strain or unsafe environments. When employees are experiencing muscle discomfort they are more fatigued and less productive. When a company shows they care about the employees and provide a safe environment, morale increases and there is less turnover.”

As an indication that, over time, the incidence and severity rates have decreased, past clients have reported enjoying rates that are at least 30 percent below the national average for the same industrial classification. In fact, according to Freas, some companies have incidence rates that are below 1 percent.

“To bring someone in from the outside definitely gives you a different perspective,” says Randy Morehouse, assistant production manager at D&W Diesel, a remanufacturing company in Auburn, N.Y., specializing in diesel engines and diesel-engine components. “Ergonomics is definitely an aspect of any good safety program.”

Morehouse says the company saved money after training in 2004 through no- cost methods including adjusting bench heights and teaching employees how to properly lift and handle heavy items.

“While much of the work we do is with New York-based companies, we have had requests from as far west as Washington state,” says Winnebeck.

“Helping people is just part of the job,” Freas adds. “It’s rewarding to know employees feel less discomfort and companies are saving money enabling them to remain competitive.”