By Mrs. Jennifer Bacchus (AMC)November 1, 2018
ANNISTON ARMY DEPOT, Ala. -- Leaning forward, holding your arms above your head - positions which put your body in an awkward stance and must be held while you perform a task can cause musculoskeletal issues.
In an effort to prevent these types of ergonomic injuries, Anniston Army Depot has begun a pilot program, testing exoskeletons in work areas where employees may need to hold their bodies or arms in unnatural positions for long periods of time.
Glenn Ingle, an industrial hygienist for the installation, began to research the project in April. He quickly learned one of the biggest hurdles in choosing the proper exoskeleton equipment.
"When people put on a machine, it can make them walk like a machine, which isn't natural," said Ingle. "Adding an awkward posture while removing excessive force isn't an effective way to lessen ergonomic risk factors."
Fortunately, he saw equipment in use during a visit to Honda Manufacturing of Alabama, in Lincoln, which enabled natural movement, while giving the needed support.
Ingle said the ultimate goal is to place engineering controls in all work areas, which bring the jobs to be performed to the employee, rather than having an employee stretch or strain to perform the process.
"We don't want people to wear this all the time," he said of the exoskeletons.
Ingle said the depot is looking into belt-driven systems and rollover systems which will properly align the processes to be performed to the employee; enabling the task to be performed without injury.
In addition to static posture and excessive force, the exoskeletons can reduce contact stressor injuries, which are caused when employees rest their arms or another part of their body against equipment in order to be supported while performing a task.
The pilot program will last approximately three weeks and required training throughout the cost center as well as instruction involving Safety and Industrial Hygiene.
During the last few months, Industrial Hygiene has put several tools in place to assist employees.
A chair is in use in the Combat Vehicle Repair Facility which supports the weight of heavy tools, reducing strain on employees.
Improved knee pads, anti-fatigue mats, anti-vibration gloves and bump caps can all be found in the Safety Supply Store.
As employees notice cracks or deterioration in their mats, knee pads or other safety equipment, they are encouraged to replace them.
The new bump caps even have task lighting.
"The more light employees have, the less time it takes them to complete a task in an awkward posture," said Ingle.