Ergonomics Solution: Analyze, Improve, Control

The Solution: Continued

The Dow Chemical Company’s Innovative Use of "Six Sigma"

Step 2: Analyze
Accurately identifying the root causes of a problem, which in turn leads to more effective improvements, is an essential function of the Six Sigma methodology. Therefore, the project team next analyzed the collected survey data to determine differences in the workstations, work environments, user training, and behavior at the different DDC sites. The team then identified possible root causes underlying these variables using several of the Six Sigma tools and methodologies, including brainstorming, ‘fishbone’ diagramming, a work performance matrix, and Antecedant-Behavior-Consequence and Balance of Consequences analyses. After developing a list of possible root causes, the team used additional Six Sigma tools and methodologies to identify probable root causes and validate them. For example, one possible root cause identified was a failure of the employee to recognize the importance of ergonomics compliance to his or her personal well-being. This root cause was validated by the employee survey, in which many of the employees expressed an attitude of "it won't happen to me."

Other key root causes validated through this process were the lack of adjustable furniture at some worksites and a lack of "ownership" in personal safety on the part of the employee. The team also determined that ergonomics was not emphasized by DDC to the same extent as other, more immediate, safety issues such as the use of personal protective equipment in hazardous environments.

Step 3: Improve
After determining the most significant root causes through analysis and validation, the project team developed a series of improvements to correct the identified root causes, including both work-related and personal risk factors. Workstation deficiencies were easily addressed by implementing a workstation upgrade plan. Elevating workstation ergonomics to the same level of importance as other personal safety and health issues was a more challenging improvement. However, the team elevated the focus on workstation ergonomics by improving awareness on the part of management and employees and by altering employee behavior and work habits through increased accountability.

The project team developed a novel approach to raising employee awareness by collecting a series of personal testimonials from other employees and posting them on the Company’s intranet site. These testimonials were supplemented by more traditional communications, including regular work group safety meetings, training, and increased ergonomics resources. At each facility, the company also designated Ergonomic Focal Points and Ergonomic Contacts, DDC workers who volunteered to receive specialized training and be available as a first point of contact for ergonomic concerns and questions. The team addressed employee behavior by providing feedback to individuals, creating a specific channel for early reporting of discomfort, and developing a health assessment program to address the early warning signs of potential MSDs. Employee personal accountability was addressed by implementing a "Safety First" mentality that stressed ergonomics as a key issue in personal safety and not a separate stand-alone topic.

These improvements are not static, but are a part of an ongoing ergonomics safety and health process. For example, while furniture improvements have been implemented, it is understood that the workstations will continually evolve to meet the employees’ changing needs.

Step 4: Control
After the immediate improvements were implemented, the project team developed a long-term control plan designed to sustain the achievements. The control plan took the sequence of events which might contribute to an injury, as outlined in the Measure step, and added a series of performance standards, measures, responsibilities, and contingency plans. For example, in the original sequence, an employee was instructed to attend ergonomics training when starting a job, but there was no control measure to ensure this took place. Under the control plan, the employee is now required to attend the training within 30 days of job assignment, and the designated Ergo Contact at the job site is alerted and follows up with the employee if the employee fails to attend within that timeframe. Each step in the sequence has a similar control, ensuring that the improved process is followed long after the conclusion of the project.

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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Ergonomics Project Results: The Dow Chemical Company
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Ergonomics Project Results: The Dow Chemical Company

Immediate improvements in the identified risk factors significantly reduced the severity of injuries.
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