‘Ergo Team’ Charts Safer Path for Plant

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When Health, Safety and Environment Manager Patricia Rojas started seeing an increase in ergonomic injuries in 2010 at Cummins’ New and Reconditioned Parts plant in San Luis Potosí, Mexico, she knew changes had to be made – and fast.

Armed with data showing half of the plant’s recordable injuries were ergonomic related in 2010, resulting in 108 Lost Work Days, she went to see Operations Director Aaron Borunda, who quickly agreed.

“When you have ergonomic injuries – sprains and strains and back problems – it can take a long time to recover,” Rojas said. “Nobody wants that – not employees or their managers.”

Working to recondition engine parts can be especially tricky from an ergonomic standpoint. Each used engine can present unique challenges requiring different techniques to take apart.

Rojas, who has a background in ergonomic injury prevention, says the good news is that some pretty simple steps, ranging from stretching exercises to re-evaluating how to do a particular job, can make a big difference.

While she says there were plenty of raised eyebrows at first, employees at San Luis Potosí today are thinking about ways they can do their jobs that reduce the stress on their bodies.

Some jobs have been redesigned to promote proper posture. And more than a few employees are performing preventive stretching. Almost everyone has participated in some aspect of ergonomic injury prevention.

The early results are promising. Recordable ergonomic injuries dropped by 50 percent in 2011 and Lost Work Days decreased from 108 to 49 days.

Rojas started her initiative by sponsoring a Six Sigma project on injuries at the plant. Six Sigma is the data-based problem solving tool used across Cummins. Rojas recruited participants from various areas of the plant to be part of her team to ensure each area had a voice in the effort.

She said Borunda’s willingness to enhance the “Ergo Team” by adding 15 young engineering interns was critical.

The engineers, who received some basic training in ergonomics, brought fresh new ideas to the project as well as a lot of energy.

“Six Sigma is our cultural tool to attack complex issues,” Borunda said. “Then you need resources around to execute the method and make the difference.”

An added benefit of Rojas’ initiative is that the engineers will now have a good understanding of how the processes they design can impact an operator’s health, positively impacting quality and efficiency as well as health and safety.

Rojas, though, said the most important thing her team did was talk to employees to learn what they were thinking.

“The person doing a job, they know what is giving them trouble, what is causing them discomfort,” Rojas said.

“Really listening helps you come up with the best solution and makes changes much easier to implement.”

Plant leaders set priorities and implemented a program in 2011 that included an improved procedure to report incidents to the medical department, prevention of some injuries through exercise, and some engineering changes in the way certain jobs were performed.

In addition, a physical therapy clinic was established using simple things like a tub full of rice or lentils and blocks of wood to enhance exercises to build strength.

“I think our project went beyond just preventing injuries,” said Rojas, who believes it could be a model for other Cummins facilities. “Not only is the plant safer, I think we’ve helped improve the work environment, too.”

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