Ergonomic Workplace Evaluation in Ugandan Apparel Plants (Part-2)

Ergonomic Workplace Evaluation in Ugandan Apparel Plants (Part-2)
Tebyetekerwa Mike
Dept. of Textile & Clothing Technology
Kyambogo University
Kampala, Uganda
Tel: +256(0)773770312 // +256(0)701181383

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2.0 Definition
Ergonomics (or human factors) is the scientific discipline concerned with the understanding of interactions among humans and other elements of a system, and the profession that applies theory, principles, data and methods to design in order to optimize human well-being and overall system performance.( International Ergonomics Association,2010).

2.1 Why ergonomics?
Ergonomics is a topic that affects us all; yet few of us have a good understanding of what the term actually means or realize how it affects us. Ergonomics is a science that focuses on designing a job for the worker.

An ergonomically-designed job would ensure that a taller worker had enough space to safely perform his or her job, and also that a shorter worker could reach all of his or her tools and products without reaching beyond a comfortable and safe range. The opposite to this, and what typically happens in the workplace, is that a worker is forced to work within the confines of the job or workstation that is already in place. This may require employees to work in awkward postures, perform the same motion over and over again or lift heavy loads – all of which could cause work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WMSD). (Sarder et al., 2006)

These injuries often start as minor aches and pains but can develop into disabling injuries that affect our activities of daily living such as laundry and hobbies (knitting, golf, etc.). Ergonomics aims at preventing injuries by controlling the risk factors such as force, repetition, posture and vibration that can cause injuries to develop. (Jennifer et al., 2001)

2.2 Fundamental ergonomic principals

1. Use proper tools
Tools should be appropriate for the specific tasks being performed. Tools should allow and keep hands and wrists straight Keep repetitive motions to a minimum

The workstations or tasks can often be redesigned to reduce the number of repetitive motions that must be performed. Using a power-driven screwdriver or tools with a ratchet device can reduce the number of twisting motions with the arm. Some tasks can be automated or redesigned to eliminate repetitive movements and musculoskeletal injuries.

2. Avoid awkward postures
The job should not require one to work wit hands above shoulder height on a regular basis. Arms should be kept low and close to your body. Bending and twisting of wrists, back and neck should also be avoided.

3. Use safe lifting procedures
Avoid lifting objects that are too heavy. Use more than one person or a mechanical device to reduce the load. The workstation should not require one to lift objects above the head or twist the back while lifting

4. Get proper rest
The worker needs to rest the body and mind in order to prevent injuries. Give muscles a rest during your coffee breaks, lunches and weekends by doing something different from what you do in your job

2.3 State of Ergonomics and clothing industry
The clothing industry is generally seen as a safe place to work, and when compared to other industries, there are relatively few serious accidents in clothing plants. The hazards faced are different. The major health risks in this industry do not arise from immediate, potentially fatal hazards. Instead, the risks that clothing workers face come from more subtle hazards whose effect accumulates over time.(Jennifer et al., 2001)

2.4 Common ergonomic problems in apparel plants
Workers in the garment industry work in clothes designing, sewing or cutting services, and clothes wholesaling. Due to the nature of these jobs, the prevalence of work related musculoskeletal disorders has been high. The nature and severity of the disorders have been considered to be the results of the job characteristics – constrained and sustained work postures, highly repetitive actions, and strong visual demands. The consequences are obvious from the ergonomics points of view – physical and emotional suffering of the workers, high worker compensation costs, decreased productivity and overall inefficiency.

Researchers identified common ergonomic problems in each of the four departments: cutting, assembly, pressing and finishing (Jennifer et al., 2001). The researchers looked at work practices that created hazards for workers.

2.4.0 Cutting Department

The primary tasks in the cutting department are:
  • Loading the spreading machine
  • Spreading the fabric
  • Cutting the fabric Stacking cut pieces Loading the spreading machine
Loading the spreading machine involves lifting a bolt of fabric from the floor into a spreader, or on to a spreading table if the fabric is spread by hand.

Common problems
Loading by hand. Bolts of fabric lifted by hand are very heavy and create a substantial risk of low back injury.

Loading with a movable assist or hoist. Spreaders that require the bolt of fabric to be threaded with a spreader bar – some bars are very heavy. Bolts located on the floor require the operator to adopt a stooped or squat posture to thread the bar. When no spreader bar is required the operator has to lift one end of the bolt at a time to attach the hoist.

Loading with a ramp. Gravity can be used to load the spreader. The bolt of fabric is lifted onto a ramp by a forklift truck. The bolt then rolls directly into the spreader without manipulation by the operator. The problem with this technique is that it can only be used with certain types of spreaders. Spreading the fabric

Common problems
Spreading by hand. Long reaches are required to cut across the width of the fabric each time a layer is completed or flaws are removed from the fabric.

Manual spreading. Using a spreading machine that the operator pushes back and forth on the spreading table.

Operators have the long reach across the table to cut the fabric and they have to manually pick up weights to hold the fabric down each time a layer is completed before spreading the fabric in the other direction.

Automated spreading. Operators either ride on a plat- form or walk beside the automatic spreader as it moves along the table. Operators often have to smooth the fabric while it is being spread. The table is often too low and operators have to bend their backs while smoothing. This is a risky posture when maintained for extended periods of time. Cutting the fabric
There have been great advances in cutting technology in the garment industry. However, not all workplaces are using the latest technology. Not all plants want or need high-tech cutting machines.
Fabric cutting
Fabric cutting
Common problems
Band saw. Excessive reaching caused by improper workstation height. Inability to get close to the blade. Poor waste disposal. Guarding is an issue with this technique.

Die cutters. Workstations that are too high require the operator to work with raised arms. Workstations that are too low require them to bend down. Controls often require poor thumb postures. Feeding fabric into the die cutter sometimes requires a lot of forceful pulling.

Automatic cutters. Sometimes it is difficult and requires awkward postures to align the cloth being fed into the automatic cutter. The out-feed tables require a lot of reaching when removing the fabric from the table. Controls are not accessible and do not encourage operators to advance the fabric to the end of the table, which would reduce the amount of reaching. The tracks that the automatic cutters move along create a tripping hazard. 

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Mazharul Islam Kiron is a textile consultant and researcher on online business promotion. He is working with one European textile machinery company as a country agent. He is also a contributor of Wikipedia.

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