777 employees work smarter
Ergonomics program is changing production practices
BY DEBBIE HEATHERS
After 15 years of building wide-body airplanes, Tom Stake never thought he'd be sitting down on the job. But that's exactly what he's doing.
As a mechanic in the final body join area of the 777 factory where the three major sections of the airplane are joined together Stake spends most of his shift bent under the airplane's wing installing the leading edge. As he completes one section he moves along the edge of the 80-foot wing, gradually becoming more and more hunched over because the floor is slanted at a 7.5-degree angle.
That was until he got a special adjustable "pogo" stool with a sand-filled base.
And Helen Lowe, a shop clerk whose job is to provide "instant support" to mechanics, spends much of the day on her feet. While she doesn't have any specific complaints about her feet, the new pair of air soles she inserted into her shoes a few weeks ago already have made a big difference and could prevent future injuries.
"A friend told me I should try [the shoe inserts], and once I did I was hooked," Lowe said. "If you took them away they would be missed."
Stake's adjustable stool and Lowe's new soles are just two of the hundreds of small changes that Boeing is making to improve the way people work on the 777 program in Everett, Wash. These changes are tangible results of several initiatives under way to help employees work smarter and safer.
One initiative ergonomists implemented at the Everett site is a showroom of available ergonomic products. The showroom is adjacent to the 777 manufacturing areas, providing quick and convenient access for employees. And while it isn't fancy and hasn't been advertised much, the center is open to everyone and receives a steady stream of customers from throughout Everett.
Visitors are anxious to try out some of the usual items available from the showroom gloves, shoe inserts, kneepads and kneesavers as well as some unusual items. For example, the center boasts a sawed-off stool that rolls back and forth but not front and back as well as the adjustable stool that Stake now uses.
"The stools allow mechanics to relieve the stress on their lower back and leg muscles that is associated with overhead work," said John Amell, an ergonomist in Manufacturing Research and Development who works closely with the center to evaluate products and develop new tools and shop aids.
Amell estimates that off-the-shelf items meet 20 percent of employee needs, modified off-the-shelf items are another 20 percent, users and Manufacturing Research and Development engineers design 10 to 15 percent, and process changes such as job rotation to reduce an employee's exposure to ergonomic risk factors address the remaining needs.
Related to this modification process is another initiative implemented at the Everett site: ergonomic job evaluations.
Specially-trained evaluators conduct ergonomic job evaluations.
"All mechanics eventually will undergo an ergonomic evaluation," explained Mary MacClellan, a vocational rehabilitation counselor with International Association of Machinists Corporation for Re-employment and Safety Training. Currently, IAM C.R.E.S.T. has evaluated about one-third of the 777 workers in Everett, and nearly one-third of those evaluated have benefited from changes to their work environments.
For as many high-tech solutions that are developed there are lots of simple and easy-to-implement ideas. Sometimes the solution is as simple as a step stool with larger steps. "I have no interest in sharing this good idea," joked Jeff Mahanay, an electrician who underwent an ergonomic evaluation and now uses a modified stepladder. "If I share, then I run the risk of people coming to our area and wanting to borrow our ladders."
While many employees receive the easy-to-acquire items, all who have visited the showroom in Everett leave with one common benefit a healthier, safer work environment with reduced risk of injury.
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