3 steps to improving fulfillment center ergonomics

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The effectiveness of your fulfillment center depends on your employees getting the job done right. While this might begin by hiring hard-working individuals and training them on the correct working methods of your distribution center, these steps are only two pieces of the puzzle.

For a truly efficient fulfillment center, work stations must be ergonomically designed. Ergonomics is the practice of creating workspaces that are optimized for the human body, rather than forcing workers' bodies to fit into a particular workspace, explained the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

In the packaging industry, a workstation that isn't focused on ergonomics might require an employee to bend, turn or lift heavy items, among other movements, regularly throughout the day. Even the most dedicated employees can be slowed or frustrated by these tasks.

Distribution centers aren't as productive if workers experience back pain.Back pain can slow down progress in your distribution center.

Additionally, neglecting to consider ergonomics can increase the possibility of injuries on the job. According to Ergonomics Plus, one-third of workers' compensation costs result from a musculoskeletal injury, which is largely avoidable by having ergonomic workspaces.

Step 1: Ask questions

The first step in optimizing your packing stations for your workers' bodies is determining where your biggest inefficiencies occur. Ask your employees what slows them down the most. Perhaps a commonly used packaging material is stored on a high shelf, or a table is too low for taller workers, causing them to strain to reach supplies every day.

Getting a consultation from an expert in workstation set up is good idea. Arrange for a Pregis professional to take a look around your facility to determine which aspects could be improved. This person will be able to make helpful suggestions that your employees will appreciate.

Step 2: Make ergonomic upgrades

Once you've talked to your employees and a specialist who can make suggestions on how to improve ergonomics, you can begin investing in these changes. Some basic considerations to keep in mind include:

"The most-used packaging materials should be stored in front of the worker."

Table height
If your workers need to bend over to assemble or fill boxes, your tables are too low. This can easily lead to back pain and musculoskeletal injuries over time. Alternatively, workstations that are too high can cause arm pain or general frustration.

To accommodate all employees, regardless of height, equip your fulfillment center with height-adjustable worktops, such as the Easypack Packstation from Pregis.

Materials positioning
Packers should be able to get their jobs done without excessive movements or strain. The majority of the materials they need in a given day should be within reach and able to obtain without twisting, turning or bending.

Cisco-Eagle, a materials handling equipment supplier, explained that the most-used items should be stored in front of the worker, above the table. This is because the worker simply needs to reach up – no bending, twisting, turning or walking required.

After this front-and-center location, the second- and third-most ergonomically sound locations for packaging material storage are:

  • To the right or left of the worker.
  • Behind the worker.

Don't forget about solutions like storing materials above the conveyor or investing in some portable packaging equipment, AirSpeed Smart, which can easily be moved from one station to another as needed. The ideal packstation will come with overhead areas to put packaging material so workers simply need to reach out to get what they need without any excessive effort.

The least-used items should be kept at ground level. You'll want to minimize the number of times a worker will bend over to pick something up.

Step 3: Train and retrain

Creating an ergonomically designed workspace can only go so far when promoting healthy posture and efficient processes. The rest is up to your employees' use of the space. To give them every opportunity to use their workspaces properly, have training sessions or reviews.  Pregis can also provide 'how  to pack' placards that reinforce these techniques.

Teaching workers the benefits of your ergonomic work stations will encourage them to practice healthy posture and help them understand how to use the stations best. Training your employees on various stations and processes throughout your fulfillment center can improve ergonomics in another way. No matter how conveniently placed your packaging materials are, your workers will likely have to turn, bend or walk at some point during the day to accomplish a task.

Help them avoid repetitive motions that could become painful over time by rotating employees to various work stations, DC Velocity suggested. Also, teach them useful ways to maintain productivity without making repetitive movements.

An ergonomically designed fulfillment center is a productive one. Configuring your center for worker comfort and safety can go a long way in boosting your company's productivity and showing your employees that they are valued. For advice on how you can upgrade your fulfillment center, reach out to the experts at Pregis.