Ergonomics Project Results: The Dow Chemical Company

Ergonomics Case Study: The Dow Chemical Company's Use of the "Six Sigma" Methodology

Results of the Project:
DDC made immediate improvements in the identified risk factors, which have been reduced 64% since the baseline measurement and by more than 45% overall. These improvements have been well received by the DDC’s management and workers, and employees are proactive in addressing discomfort and have a better understanding of the personal benefits of ergonomics. As improvements like these have been repeated throughout the Company, the severity of ergonomics injuries has declined. In 2001, 53% of the Company's ergonomic injuries resulted in lost work time or advanced medical treatment. However, in 2003, only 30% of ergonomic injuries were this severe; the remaining 70% of cases required only first aid or precautionary measures. This result, in turn, has contributed to Dow’s 2005 goal of reducing the Company’s reportable injury and illness rate by 90 percent to 0.24.

Moreover, by virtue of the Six Sigma Methodology’s emphasis on long-term control, the project has developed an ongoing process that will help the DDC sustain its immediate results and continue to improve. The positive results of this project have been shared with Tricia and other EH&S managers at other business units, leading to similar projects throughout the company.

Dow believes that using Six Sigma for EH&S projects such as these enables employers to develop program improvements based on measurement and analysis, rather than speculation, resulting in a more cost-efficient and sustainable fix that will yield benefits indefinitely. Rather than undertaking costly trial and error attempts at solutions, the Company was able to identify the root causes of ergonomic injuries with confidence and make improvements to the ergonomics program in a systematic and sustainable way.

Sidebar: Six Sigma Methodology
The Greek letter sigma is used in mathematics to represent standard deviation, or how much a process varies from its average value. Under the Six Sigma methodology, deficiencies are described in terms of "defects" per million opportunities, with the score of 6 sigma; equal to 3.4 defects per million opportunities. Six Sigma uses the following four-step process known as MAIC (Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control) to significantly reduce defects in processes, products, and/or services:

Step 1: Measure - clearly define the process to be improved and the "defect" for the project, and identify a clear and appropriate measure for the "defect"

Step 2: Analyze - determine the root causes of the defect

Step 3: Improve - develop solutions to address the root causes and validate process improvement

Step 4: Control - implement a long-term strategy to ensure that the improvements are sustained.

The methodology can be applied to any process that allows the measurement of benefits and improvements in defect reduction, whether in the manufacture of a product, the delivery of a service, the control of costs, or the management of injuries and illnesses.

Dow has adopted the Six Sigma methodology to accelerate the company’s improvement in quality and productivity. Dow has expanded the use of the Six Sigma approach to help manage aspects of the Company’s operations beyond production and quality, including the safety and health of its workforce. Some of the projects to which Dow has applied the Six Sigma methodology include:

•reduction of repetitive stress injuries;
•reduction of motor vehicle accidents;
•improved safety for visitors (especially contractors);
•site logistics risk reduction; and
•off-the-job safety process improvement.

These projects have been key components of Dow’s 2005 Environmental, Health and Safety Goals, which include reducing Dow's reportable injury and illness rate by 90% to 0.24.

As the example in our case study illustrates, Dow’s Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) function has found the Six Sigma methodology particularly useful in identifying and validating root causes that are hard to discern because of their subjectivity, and in focusing improvements to an ergonomics program in ways that caused measurable improvements. Moreover, since the Six Sigma process includes implementation of controls to ensure that achievements are sustained over a long-term period, the Company expects to realize the benefits of its efforts for years to come.

This product was funded under GS 35F 5544H for the U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The views expressed herein do not necessarily represent the official position or policy of the U.S. Department of Labor.

May 15, 2004

Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA)
200 Constitution Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20210

Updated on: 12/10/09
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OSHA Ergonomics Case Study: The Dow Chemical Company's Use of the "Six Sigma" Methodology
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OSHA Ergonomics Case Study: The Dow Chemical Company's Use of the "Six Sigma" Methodology

Ergonomics-related injuries including musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) continue to be a serious problem for employers.
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