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close this bookLow-Cost Ways of Improving Working Conditions: 100 Examples from Asia (ILO, 1989, 190 p.)
View the document(introduction...)
close this folderINTRODUCTION
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentSelection of examples
View the documentTypes of improvements
View the documentThe potential for action
View the documentContributions of case studies
close this folderCHAPTER I: WORK ORGANISATION AND WORKSTATION DESIGN
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View the document1. Workstations
View the document2. Materials handling
View the document3. Housekeeping, storage and access to work locations
View the document4. Job content and work schedules
close this folderCHAPTER II: THE PHYSICAL WORKING ENVIRONMENT
View the document(introduction...)
View the document1. Lighting
View the document2. Heat and noise
View the document3. Handling, use and storage of hazardous substances
View the document4. Guards and other safety devices
View the document5. Safe working procedures
close this folderCHAPTER III: WELFARE FACILITIES FOR WORKERS
View the document(introduction...)
View the document1. Sanitary facilities
View the document2. Facilities for beverages and meals
View the document3. Recreation, child care, and transport facilities

4. Job content and work schedules

It is important to utilise workers' skills effectively. Managers are expected to find the most appropriate way of assigning tasks and work procedures taking the various skills of individual workers into account. It sometimes happens that a job may be monotonously simple or excessively demanding. It is therefore important to improve work organisation and job content. Work efficiency will increase when workers are free from excessive stress, fatigue or monotony. When workers feel their skills are properly used, they will care more about production. They are less likely to make mistakes or be absent from work. All these factors relate to increased job satisfaction and contribute to retaining productive workers.

It should not be forgotten that workers have very different backgrounds, skills and preferences. One worker may emphasise pay, another companionship, and yet another learning on the job. These needs and preferences also change with time. Generally speaking, however, it is helpful to have jobs which are not strictly machine-paced, are varied and give opportunities for communication and support among fellow workers. Mechanisation can help with these aspects, but can also easily lead to machine-paced or boring tasks.

No single organisational improvement will be applicable to all jobs, especially because needs and preferences change with place and time. Nevertheless, these examples give us some ideas about low-cost methods of improving work organisation. Small changes can have a significant impact on job content.

Case 29: Using a fixed wood plane to reduce effort

Workers using small hand wood planes took considerable time and energy to finish wood slats in a wooden cask manufacturing enterprise in Calcutta, India. The enterprise had ten employees. The movement of a heavy plane when planing small but long slats required much effort.

To reduce the time and energy spent on wood planing, a large fixed plane of 15 × 15 × 200 cm was made from hardwood. The cutting blade was fitted in the proper central position. Workers held the edge of the flat wooden slats and ran them over the plane for planing operations. Some time was required to learn to use the new plane. Much less time and effort were now required for rough planing. Detail work following the rough planing was done as before with hand-held planes.

About US$ 30 was spent, including the cost of labour to make the new plane.


Figure 57: Original method of planing wood pieces to make slats.


Figure 58: Arrangement for a newly-made 200 cm long plane. Wood slats are run over the plane.

Case 30: Improved machine feeding

In the drilling section of a company making electrical components in the Philippines, the drilling of holes in copper fuse holders for electrical safety switches was inefficient. An operator had to set the material in the mould and then pull a lever down to release the drill for punching holes in the fuse holder. He then reset the drill to repeat the operation. Since the operator had to drill several hundred holders per shift, the manual process was monotonous and tiring. In addition, there was the danger of sustaining hand injuries from the cutting drills.

Following a time and motion study conducted by the engineering department of the company, the drilling operation was redesigned by the plant engineers. The machines were provided with a twin feed system as compared to the previous single feed. An operator could insert as many as 20 blank fuse holders at a time. Pneumatic cylinders were used to drive the drills. The operator had merely to flick the switch on and the drill would punch holes on the fuse holders, which were automatically placed on the tie two at a time. After a trial run was made and some design improvements introduced, each operator was trained on the new machine.

As a result, the operators stopped taking unscheduled rest pauses to relieve arm fatigue. Average output per shift increased considerably and hand accidents due to the drill were eliminated.

The cost for design and installation of the improved drilling machine amounted to almost US$ 115. While available materials were used as much as possible, the total cost of materials used in the re-design was estimated to reach approximately US$ 2,000. Annual maintenance cost is estimated to be US$ 80.

This example deals with machine feeding, which often reveals problems causing fatigue for workers and at the same time less-than-optimal use of machine time. While the solution in this case was relatively expensive, it also had a relatively high payoff. In other situations, buffer stocks magazines, easy access to materials and similar improvements can be quite simple and inexpensive.

Case 31: Sitting arrangements on a bottle filling job

In an aerated beverage plant in Burma, the work of operators of bottle filling machines was relatively light, but had to be done all the time in a standing position. The workers complained of discomfort, fatigue and low back pain. A legal claim was also made as the Factories Act 1951 had a provision requiring that suitable sitting arrangements be made for workers if the work can be done in a sitting position. Discussion was held with the workers and the problem was studied by the plant safety committee and factory inspectors.

Chairs were designed based on the measured averages of body dimensions of the operators and the suggestions received from them. Possible voluntary changes of the work posture in the sitting position were foreseen. Each seat was provided with a backrest and a footrest. The seat height was 79 cm from the floor with the footrest about 25 cm from the floor, and the adjustable backrest was 23 × 40 cm.

A seat with an adjustable backrest cost approximately US$ 50 and one with a fixed backrest about US$ 25.

The flow of the process became smoother than before. The operators concerned highly appreciated the seating arrangements and were satisfied with the improvements. No more complaints of back pain and numbness in the legs were heard. The operators felt they no longer needed to make frequent work disruptions in order to rest.


Figure 59: A bottle filling operator at work in a standing position.


Figure 60: The operator working in a seated position with his feet on the footrest.

Case 32: Introduction of job rotation

In a small factory producing plastic goods in the Philippines, a particular job was disliked by the workers. The job was to remove excess plastic from the open end of plastic bottles after they had been made using injection molds. The task involved taking a bottle and putting its mouth around a small grinder while slightly turning the mouth round. When finished, the bottle was dropped into a large plastic bag. The task was uninteresting, although necessary. Only a few seconds were needed for the polishing of a bottle mouth. The work was done while standing as some force was necessary to turn the bottle properly. Compared with the other jobs in the factory, such as operating the injection-molding machines, labelling, inspecting, packing or preparation of materials, the job seemed too simple and boring. The person doing the job was also isolated from other workers. Productivity was low.

On hearing that everybody hated this job, the manager adopted a rotation scheme including this and some other jobs. In the scheme, a group of several workers took turns and worked at one of these jobs for only one day at a time. After polishing bottle mouths, each group member could do other jobs on the subsequent days. These other jobs were done while seated with other workers around a large work table, which workers preferred.

No direct costs were incurred in adopting the rotation scheme. The scheme was welcomed by the workers as they no longer risked long turns on disagreeable jobs. Relations between the workers also improved. The new scheme apparently had favourable effects on the workers' morale.

Case 33: Improved work-rest cycles

About 50 workers were employed in a steel rolling mill in Calcutta, India. A combination of high thermal and work loads caused fatigue and low efficiency especially during summer months. The workers were assigned to two groups, each group working for one hour and then resting for one hour in turn. The existing work-rest cycle, however, did not seem satisfactory.

After examining the situation, it was proposed that a work-rest cycle of half-an-hour would be a solution. Experts from a physiology department of the University helped the management assess the level of fatigue of the existing one-hour cycle and the proposed half-an-hour cycle. The study revealed that a work-rest cycle of half an hour reduced fatigue at the end of each cycle. With the workers' consent, the new work-rest cycle was adopted.

No extra cost was involved in the transfer to a new, shorter work rest cycle. Though a few of the workers did not like the new arrangement on the grounds that the half-an-hour rest period was not sufficient for playing cards, it was welcomed by all the others. The shorter cycle helped reduce fatigue and decreased the likelihood of heat disorders in the summer.

Case 34: Shorter periods of continuous work and job rotation

Rotation of jobs, together with a change in the duration of continuous work, took place in a bottle washing section of a medium-sized factory in Malaysia producing beverages. Fourteen workers in this section had been subjected to continuous discomfort. Some male workers had been complaining of backache from carrying and placing two dozen bottles on a roller conveyor of crates and packing filled bottles into crates. Female operators of washing or filling machines had been exposed to noise over 90 dBA. Four female workers inspecting 200 bottles per minute had been complaining of visual discomfort. The repetitive nature of the work was monotonous and affected efficiency.

The management came up with the idea of switching the positions of the workers every 15 minutes. Nine female and five male workers were involved. Two female and one male workers were also added as relief workers. At every interval of 15 minutes, the workers switched positions according to a set pattern, males with males and females with females (e.g., machine operation, bottle inspection, packing, and then a period of rest for female workers). With the new rotation, the female workers had a rest period of 15 minutes after every 75 minutes of work.


Figure 61: The production layout where rotation of jobs was introduced.

The new set-up required no particular costs except for the wages of two female and one male relief workers. These wages, amounting to about US $280 per month, however, might not be considered solely due to the new arrangement, as some relief workers had to be assigned to make up for the absence of certain workers. When the new rotation system was started, the production initially decreased due to the workers' unfamiliarity with the new positions. But eventually they became familiar with all the new positions, and the system paid off handsomely. The workers expressed satisfaction with the new system. The system relieved the workers of monotony and helped maintain production efficiency. The 15-minute pause after every 60-75 minutes of work also appeared sufficient to refresh them.

Case 35: Frequent short breaks in production

In a cigarette factory in Bali, Indonesia, about 600 female workers were engaged in the production of manually rolled cigarettes. The monotonous and continuous nature of work caused fatigue and physical complaints towards the end of the day and productivity was low.

The working hours were from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m., with two half-hour breaks taken from 9.00-9.30 and from 11.30-12.00. These two breaks were apparently not used effectively because of the piece-rate system. Workers felt it disadvantageous to leave their work. This seemed to aggravate their eventual fatigue. It was also found that the production dropped in the latter half of the week.

A new work-rest schedule was introduced which gave five-minute breaks after every two hours of work. During each break, the workers were given a cup of tea. The cost incurred was US$ 0.15 per worker per day, as a cup of tea cost only US$ 0.05. As a result, a worker could produce, on average, 50 extra rolls each day. No significant reduction in the production rate was seen towards the end of the day, nor towards the end of the week. Using a questionnaire, it was also confirmed that the workers experienced less fatigue at the end of the day's work in the new schedule compared to the previous system.

Mean Production (in 50 pieces)


8.00

10.00

12.00

14.00


A

B

A

B

A

B

A

B

Monday

10.6

12.3

11.2

13.3

11.3

14.3

11.3

15.7

Tuesday

11.0

11.0

12.3

14.4

11.9

12.8

12.9

14.9

Wednesday

11.0

11.2

13.9

13.9

12.2

13.0

13.0

14.0

Thursday

11.2

11.1

12.1

13.8

11.8

12.1

12.3

13.8

Friday

11.5

12.1

12.2

14.0

12.3

14.4

12.1

15.7

Saturday

12.6

11.9

11.6

14.1

14.5

16.7

-

-


E = 67.9

69.6

73.3

83.5

74.0

83.3

61.6

74.1


X = 11.3

11.6

12.2

13.9

12.3

13.9

12.3

14.8




P < 5%


P < 5%


P < 5%


A = Control Group; B = with 5 minutes rest + tea at 2 hrs interval.


Figure 62: Comparison of production curves before and after the introduction of short breaks.