MOD-PAC workers.

Printers hum five days a week over three shifts at MOD-PAC’s Elmwood Avenue headquarters in Buffalo, NY, where premium quality folding cartons and personalized print products are made. Like any other manufacturing environment, the facility is a potential breeding ground for job-related injuries. MOD-PAC leaders have noticed a slight uptick of incidents in recent years among employees of the finishing department – specifically the crews that feed loads of paper materials into the machines and remove them. Some employees have reported pain and soreness in the shoulders, hands and wrists, relegating them to light job duty. A few cases involved medical leave due to clinical diagnoses of carpal tunnel syndrome or a rotator cuff injury. These isolated incidents are enough to motivate Operations Manager Rick Oleszak in taking a proactive approach, so that MOD-PAC keeps its employees safe, does not come close to exceeding its insurance-mandated threshold for safety-related claims or does not draw attention from OSHA because of injuries requiring medical treatment or restricted work. Without an ergonomics-focused safety program in place, he sought assistance to objectively evaluate processes of the finishing department and identify ways to minimize risk for injury.

The Approach

The Strategic Partnership for Industrial Resurgence (SPIR) grant program subsidized efforts of an assistant professor from the University at Buffalo’s Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering, as well as a graduate engineering student. Work involved:

  • Assessing previous injuries to identify causes
  • Evaluating workstations, job designs and workforce characteristics to gauge ergonomic risk levels
  • Providing design suggestions for improved workstations that allow for adjustability
  • Soliciting employee feedback to understand perceptions of difficult tasks and workload level
  • Developing an observation-based tool for supervisors to use in analyzing risks associated with each unique print job and determining areas/processes in need of redesign
  • Designing training materials to instill best practices for avoiding injury

The Impact

  • Significantly reduced the number of injuries resulting in lost work time, from 300 days lost in 2013 to no days lost in 2015
  • Alleviated strain from manually separating die-cut paper stacks by developing new tools and strategically using the advanced die-cutting machines for tougher jobs
  • Increased efficiency of manufacturing operations by improving coordination between the purchasing and production departments
  • Elevated injury prevention by implementing a mandatory stretching routine and annual training session, posting visual reminders of proper techniques, and conducting daily audits
  • Minimized awkward reaching by developing adjustable packing stations to accommodate variable worker heights and case sizes
  • Decreased repetitive worker movements by instituting an hourly job rotation process and replacing some unsuitable equipment with fully automated, high-speed packing machines
  • Provided better support to employees in meeting operational speed standards by reorganizing material placement