Health hazard evaluation report: HETA-2004-0116-2977, ZF Industries, Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
In February 2004, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) received a confidential request for a Health Hazard Evaluation (HHE) from employees at ZF Industries in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Workers were concerned that the number of musculoskeletal disorders of the hand and wrist was increasing since the company had organized the work stations into cells and implemented lean manufacturing production methods. The requesters were also concerned that the installation of a new assembly line to produce axles at the plant could result in more injuries to the workers. The ergonomics evaluation consisted of observing and videotaping jobs in the front and rear axle departments and a discussion with the company's ergonomics consultant regarding the mechanism used to design jobs and identify musculoskeletal system stressors. The medical evaluation consisted of a review of company safety incident report (OSHA 300) logs for years 2002 through 2004 and confidential interviews with 11 employees chosen at random from a list of workers provided by the company. The main ergonomic stressors we observed were bending over to lift parts from the floor, from containers and bins, and while unloading pallets due to incomplete implementation of parts delivery systems to the new assembly work stations. Review of injury logs indicated that muscle strain was the most common injury type, and the hand/arm was the most likely injury location. Confidential interviews revealed that workers who were injured thought their injuries occurred on the old assembly line. Workers were concerned about forklift traffic in the plant, having to lift and carry parts to their work stations, incomplete job stress evaluations, and lack of communication regarding the status of planned job changes. Due to the low production rate, NIOSH investigators conclude that a health hazard does not currently exist at this facility. However, unless planned changes in parts delivery systems and evaluation of the physical stressors of newly designed jobs are completed in a timely manner, worker injuries are likely to occur, particularly as production rises to projected levels.