Introduction to Industrial Engineering
By Jane M. Fraser
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The workplace can be a dangerous location. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics 5,764 workers died from work related causes in the US in 2004, as shown in the following table.
|Event or exposure||Number of fatalities|
|Contact with objects and equipment||1,009|
|Assaults and violent acts||809|
|Exposure to harmful substances||464|
|Fires and explosions||159|
The following table shows the occurrence in 2004 of nonfatal injuries involving days away from work:
|Injury or illness||Number of cases|
|Sprains, strains, tears||525,390|
|Soreness, pain, hurt, except the back||66,630|
|Back pain, hurt back||37,930|
|Heat burns, scalds||18,510|
The workplace can be a dangerous location, but the safety hazards can be reduced. The IE designs the workplace so that danger is reduced from the use of tools, machines, and materials in the production process.
For example, operation of a punch press often requires that two buttons, away from the punch location itself, be pressed simultaneously with the workerís left and right hands. If the worker's hands are pressing those buttons, the hands cannot be under the press, so cannot be injured.
Various tools that we have discussed already help an IE think systematically about what can go wrong: FMEA and fault tree analysis help the IE trace through how errors or faults can lead to accidents. Any accident in an organization should be carefully analyzed to determine the cause. The system should be changed to eliminate or reduce the change of that type of accident occurring.
An IEís instinct should be to design the system so that safety, efficiency, and quality occur naturally. If an injury occurs, an IEís first thought should be to blame the system. For example, lockout and tagout procedures are meant to protect maintenance and repair workers from the accidental start up of equipment. However, workers must obey such safety rules. The IE may be in charge of safety training programs for workers, which should include the reasons for certain rules. Many organizations have a one strike policy; any violation of a safety rule leads to immediate dismissal. While such a policy may seem extreme, it conveys clearly to workers the organizationís dedication to safety.
Apart from the safety of the worker, the worker also exists in an environment and the IE must consider effects on the comfort of the worker of:
For example, this web site describes the possible effects of prolonged exposure to vibration.
The web site of the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) has information about different types of issues in safety. For example, this OSHA page points to resources relevant to hazards from cotton dust. The IE also has to know about the particular issues in the industry for which he or she works. For example, this OSHA page discusses safety and health issues for hospital workers.
Goetsch (1999) states that the field of occupational safety has expanded from concern with injury-causing conditions to include concern with disease-causing conditions. The safety manager is now the safety and health manager. For example, Goetsch mentions worker stress as a health concern, but also a potential safety concern if the stressed worker is less safety conscious (page 1). Similarly, NIOSH points to shift work and long work hours as safety and health potential issues:
According to 2001 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, almost 15 million Americans work evening shift, night shift, rotating shifts, or other employer arranged irregular schedules. The International Labour Office in 2003 reports that working hours in the United States exceed Japan and most of western Europe. Both shift work and long work hours have been associated with health and safety risks.
Some companies have introduced programs to promote good health, for example, smoking cessation programs, safe driving programs, and exercise programs, at least partly to reduce health insurance premiums the company pays for workers. Some companies have gone as far as forbidding their workers to smoke off the job, but such programs have been controversial.