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Handle with care: technology can save money and your back

By: John A Redding
26 March, 2013

It has been estimated that four out of every five Australian adults will experience significant lower back pain in their lifetime, with many of the problems due to workplace-related injuries.

In fact, back injuries account for nearly 20 per cent of all injuries and illnesses that occur in the workplace. They are common in a variety of fields, especially for workers in the manufacturing, mining and construction industries.

The concern is that many of these injuries can be prevented with the proper training and the use of the correct materials handling equipment.

John Brittain from Materials Handling advises companies to invest in materials handling equipment for a number of reasons.

"By investing in materials handling they are automatically investing in safety and improving productivity," Brittain says.

"Materials handling equipment aids what people are doing manually, and therefore it protects those people because they are utilising a product to do the lifting, rather than their body.

"If you have improved safety and productivity, then there is also an improvement to the bottom line, in the form of better profitability because you don’t have people off work with back problems."

Brittain says lifting products in the workplace without a lifting device should be a major concern for employees and employers.

"It doesn’t have to be a heavy weight that they are lifting. The rules that people can lift up to a certain amount don’t come into play because you can still damage your back just by bending down and lifting a 5kg weight," Brittain says.

"In a factory environment, for example, where a worker is moving something from one bench to another, the simplest and safest thing to do is to put it on a trolley.

"It could be a simple, low-cost hand trolley or platform trolley, positioned so that the worker simply slides the load off one bench onto the trolley, then just slide it off the trolley onto the other bench.

"People should be aware that the total cost can be just a few hundred dollars, not thousands."

Site Assessments

If in any doubt, Nathan Horsfall from Optimum Handling Solutions recommends companies contact a materials handling professional for a free site assessment.

"Managers might be surprised to hear that many of the materials handling problems in factories can be overcome for a relatively small investment," Horsfall claims.

"You only have to have one worker out with a back injury that could cost a company $100,000 in downtime, when it could have been prevented by a simple machine costing one-tenth of that figure, or even less."

Horsfall says it’s not only about reducing safety issues, it’s also about improving productivity.

"Workers are often happier and work faster because they aren’t bending over. Someone with a sore back, for instance, is not going to work efficiently," Horsfall says.

"As an example, we have a range of devices to assist people taking product off a conveyor and stacking it onto pallets.

"Our main product lines are pallet elevating devices ranging from simple mechanical, spring operated devices through to hydraulic scissor lift tables with an electric eye pallet detector that will position itself automatically at the perfect height.

"These devices, which can be placed at the start or end of a production line, for example, can reduce safety issues, prevent back injuries and increase productivity.

"The automatic load recognition system in our Logic Lift scissor lifts uses an electric eye to scan the load height and automatically maintains the optimum working height for the operator.

"Adjusted to a comfortable working height for each individual operator, the photo eye automatically controls the level of the scissor lift table to keep the pallet layer being stacked constant, eliminating any need for the operator to press control buttons once the stacking is started.

"When pallets are being unstacked, the scissor lift table is automatically elevated by the photo eye sensor as each layer is taken off."

Horsfall says adding the sensor to the Logic Lift scissor lifts can help increase productivity while reducing operator fatigue by decreasing the effort required.

"They are becoming more prominent in a wide variety of industries, in areas where palletised goods are frequently handled," he says.

Vacuum tube lifters

For the quick transfer of lightweight goods weighing up to 35kg, Kevin Smith from Millsom Materials Handling recommends the JumboFlex vacuum tube lifter from J Schmalz GmbH.

Suitable for many areas of automation and materials handling, the JumboFlex is designed for fast and ergonomic handling of a wide range of products in many different applications.

Suitable for production, assembly and distribution applications, the lifter is able to handle fragile goods without damage.

Available in two versions for maximum loads of 20kg and 35kg, the company says the lifter can be mounted on crane systems, on wall or column-mounted slewing cranes or on existing overhead cranes - practically anywhere where it is needed.

Depending on the requirements, the vacuum can be generated with an electric pump or with a multi-stage ejector powered by compressed air.

The lifting tube has a diameter of 80 or 100mm, depending on the maximum load, and the lifting speed is between 50 and 60m/min.

The overall height of the JumboFlex is about 2,500mm and the lifting height is 1,500mm or 1,800mm, depending on the model.

This means the JumboFlex can be used in rooms with a ceiling height of as low as 3m, depending on whether it is suspended from an overhead crane or a wall- or column-mounted slewing crane.

The lifter can be equipped with various vacuum grippers to match the intended handling tasks, such as a single suction pad, a sack gripper, a double suction pad or special grippers for handling a wide range of products and goods, for example cardboard boxes, sacks, barrels, canisters, solid objects, or rolls of plastic film.

According to the company, the grippers can be changed in a matter of seconds without the use of tools.

Various accessories are also available for the individual configuration of the lifter: a protective tube, a dust filter, a motor-protection switch, a silencer box for the electric vacuum pump and many others.

Lifting and lowering of the load, as well as releasing the load are controlled with a single operator control, whose optimised shape is said to allow precise one-hand movement and positioning by both right-handed and left-handed users.

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Anonymous | Friday, April 12, 2013, 1:20 PM
No company I have ever worked for has paid more than lip service to OHS. I don't believe business owners are scared of WorkCover, and I think they consider the odd injury and subsequent insurance claim as part of their running costs, and certainly a cheaper alternative to implementing expensive technology solutions or hiring safety consultants. Seems the number of workplace accidents stays more or less the same every year, so what evidence is there that anyone is taking safety seriously?