OSHA chief John Henshaw, a big proponent of proving safety's competitive edge, proudly announced at his ASSE speech last week that Dow Chemical recently successfully addressed ergonomics hazards in the company's design and construction division. The Dow division reached its goal of reducing the reportable injury and illness rate by 90 percent — before the target date of 2005.

Using the Six Sigma process, Dow challenged a team to identify the primary contributing factors to musculoskeletal disorders and reduce those factors by 70 percent. The team followed a four-step process: measure, analyze, improve and control.

They identified several root causes:

  • Employees didn't recognize the importance of ergonomics to their personal well-being.
  • Employees did not always follow proper procedures.
  • Some furniture wasn't designed or adjusted correctly.
  • Ergonomics wasn't emphasized by managers and the business unit.

To solve the problem, the team recommended upgrading work stations and increasing awareness of the importance of ergonomics — for both managers and workers. The control step involved education and training and follow-up.

As a result, identified risk factors have been reduced 64 percent since the baseline measurement. The impact on injuries is clear: 53 percent of ergonomic-related injuries in 2001 were lost-time or required advanced medical treatment; only 30 percent of cases were that severe in 2003.

In coming months OSHA promises more documentation on making the business case for safety and health:

  • The ergonomics program for office environments developed by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Rhode Island.
  • General safety and health management systems from Auto Parts Manufacturing Corporations.
  • Fleet safety for the sales force at Abbott Laboratories.
  • Construction project safety from Great American Ball Park.
  • Engineering controls to reduce ergonomics hazards from Countryside Care Nursing Home.