Offsetting Occupational Handicaps: Obesity

posted on: Thursday July 11, 2013

Express Singled  2Material Handling and Logistics (MH&L) recently posted an article titled, “How to Compensate for Obesity’s Impact on Productivity.” Obesity is a growing issue in the US, and in the warehouse, obese employees face unique challenges. MH&L cite some measurable differences in the physical capabilities of obese individuals as well as some accommodations to keep them as productive and healthy as possible. With the healthcare reform being a hot issue right now, this is something that needs attention.

Some of the effects of obesity on performance are predictable while others aren’t as obvious. In the MH&L article, edited by Tom Andel, Humantech certified professional ergonomist Blake McGowan describes these effects. Some of them include:

  • “Increased strength. Obese individuals have 20% higher absolute strength for hand grip and shoulder flexion during sustained isometric exertions (Cavuoto & Nussbaum, 2013).
  • Earlier and greater fatigue onset. Strength capabilities decrease greater and faster during repeated force/torque applications in obese individuals (Maffiuletti et al., 2007).
  • Increased movement time. When performing a forward reaching/aiming task, obese individuals have a longer movement time, which increases as task difficulty increases (Berrigan et al., 2006).
  • Reduced trunk flexion. In the obese individuals, trunk forward flexion motion is restricted in both sitting and standing tasks (Gilleard & Smith, 2007).
  • Decreased range of motion (ROM). Obese individuals have significantly reduced ROM for shoulder extensions and adductions, lumbar spine extension and lateral flexions, and knee flexions (Park et al., 2010).”

These challenges not only impact productivity, but risk of injury. Job tasks for any employee should be assigned with physical limitations in mind. As healthcare costs continue to rise for manufacturers, special attention need be paid to details like these. According to the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), employer-sponsored healthcare premiums have gone up almost 120% since 1999. NAM’s article, “Healthcare Reform Impact on Manufacturers,” states, “To drive down costs in the long term and extend manufacturers health care coverage, the NAM supports regulatory implementation that includes a focus on preventative care, proper use of health information technology, and alignment of incentives so that successful outcomes are rewarded.”

The idea of preventative care falls in line with the suggestions made in MH&L’s article to improve productivity in obese workers. They suggest:

  • “Keep work close, within 16″ (406 mm) from the front of the body;
  • Keep it in the comfort zone, between 38″ and 47″ (0.97 to 1.19 m), or directly in front of the body between the shoulders and the knees;
  • Provide appropriate equipment;
  • Promote variety at the workstation.”

These ergonomic suggestions should not be foreign to the warehousing and manufacturing industries. These sectors report some of the country’s most work-related musculoskeletal disorders to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Preventative care is definitely an ergonomic concern.

Accommodating the needs of obese employees can overlap the improvement of overall ergonomics, especially when it comes to equipment. Power tuggers in particular have been utilized not only as ergonomic equipment, but also as a productivity-boosting tool. Tugs like Load Movers allow any adult to safely and effortlessly transport up to 50,000 pounds. They are effective on productivity because carts can be hitched together behind the Load Mover to create a train effect. They maneuver well around awkward turns, are safe, and can be operated by anyone. Companies all over the world have been using tugs to reduce injury and increase productivity – for all employees.

Looking at the limitations listed earlier, a power tug would accommodate the obese population well. The handle is within close reach, so flexion, extension and ROM are not great concerns. The Load Mover does all the work, so fatigue from pushing and pulling is not a concern. By creating a train, more product can be moved in one trip, so the operator can move at his or her own pace and not slow down the operation.

Regardless of your specific solution, ergonomic measures that help those with physical limitations can also help all of your employees. For information on Load Movers, you can search this site, email, or call 952-767-1720.