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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...)
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


It seems obvious that work should be organised in ways which make the best use of workers skills and abilities, and that unnecessary difficulties should be avoided. In practice, however, many jobs are much more difficult than they need to be.

Improvements in work organisation and workstation design are particularly closely related to productivity. Thus the improvements in this chapter are not only low in cost, they may actually pay for themselves very quickly in terms of increased production and better quality. There are three reasons for this connection with productivity:

- improvements in work organisation and workstation design can directly improve productivity, for example by eliminating or combining tasks, by permitting more rapid task execution, by shortening handling distances and by reducing the likelihood of errors;

- such improvements also reduce the fatigue of the workers and permit more rapid recovery, which indirectly contributes to productivity;

- many of these improvements also affect the motivation of workers and thereby the likelihood of production increases and higher quality.

In addition, it should be kept in mind that these improvements reduce the likelihood of accidents and of the costs and damage associated with them.

This chapter gives examples of improvements in workstation design, materials handling, housekeeping and storage, job content and work schedules. They show that it is often easy and inexpensive to make jobs easier, less stressful, more motivating and more efficient.

1. Workstations

The first group of examples deals with arrangements at individual workstations. These arrangements are important as efficiency at work is greatly affected by how a workplace is designed. This is particularly true when similar operations are repeated at a workstation. If work can be done effectively and easily, productivity will be higher and quality will be better.

A workstation is a place which a worker occupies when performing a job. It may be occupied all the time or only occasionally. A workstation often contains a work stand or work table for machine operation, assembly or inspection.

At workstations, people repeat similar operations many times. It is therefore important to keep good people-work relationships so that Work is done smoothly and without unnecessary disruptions. It often happens, however, that materials and controls are placed inconveniently far away, that the work table wobbles, that the worker's body is twisted each time an operation is done, or that the worker is easily confused when reading a meter or moving a control. Each of these inappropriate situations can easily lead to wasted production time, increased fatigue and a fall in product quality. The worker may suffer from troubles due to work, such as low back pain. Even an accident may result.

Workstations should be adjusted to the capacity and needs of individual workers. For example, the work table height should correspond to body height. If the top of a table is too high and cannot be lowered, a foot platform should be provided. It is also important to make sure that the strength and skills required by the job are appropriate to individual workers who do the work. This is the reason why modifications are often needed when machines are imported or workstations designed without much attention to the special abilities and needs of local people.

Improvements in workstation design can be discovered by examining the worker's motions and the layout of visual information. Many of these improvements are applicable at low cost. For example, the worker's time can be saved by putting materials, tools and controls within easy reach. The worker's hands can be used more effectively by using jigs or other fixtures. Likewise, work motions can be made easier and postures less tiring by changing the height of work tables or by using foot platforms. Mistakes will be less frequent if different shapes or colours are allocated to different categories of switches or signals. All these measures can contribute to improving productivity and reducing strain and accidents.

Case 1: A work stand for easier handling of a heavy product

In a workshop of a transport agency in India where there were about 300 workers, four were engaged in the cleaning, rasping and trimming of tyres. Each tyre, placed on a work stand made of wood, had to be lifted and turned so that cleaning and other operations could be made on its different parts. It had to be supported on the knees while being turned. This meant awkward posture, bending of the upper body to pick up tools, and strain on the back.

To make turning the tyre easier, two round pipes were fixed at the appropriate height replacing the old square-shaped wooden tyre-holder. The original and new work stands are shown in Figure 1. Because of the round structure of the new tyre-holder, turning the tyre became easy. The two pipes held up the tyre, eliminating the need for knee support. Since the Cools were kept at working height, there was no need to bend for them.

Figure 1: Original (left) and new (right) work stands for cleaning, rasping and trimming of tyres.

This new stand was fabricated from scrap materials. Welding was done in the workshop. Hence, costs incurred were marginal except for work hours for fabricating, which cost less than US$ 10. The manager of the workshop noted not only a reduction in the workers' fatigue but also a considerable increase in productivity. The output per work stand almost doubled. This was apparently due to the easiness of tyre turning that could be done at the new stand with only one hand and without requiring knee support.

In this example, the advantage of the improvement was clear and remarkable. The cost was minimal. A careful look at the way work was done showed how to raise productivity and reduce strain and fatigue.

Case 2: Work stand for garment work

Many manufacturing processes require manual operations. Though such operations are quite simple, it is often difficult or costly to mechanise them. As they consist of brief operations repeated many times, they easily result in boredom and discomfort. In a trouser production unit of a garment manufacturing factory in Thailand, a few jobs consisted of turning the trousers produced inside out. The workers complained of skin irritation and discomfort from inserting their hands into the trousers and pulling them inside out (Figure 2).

The production manager consulted with others on ways to eliminate the skin irritation. They drew up a plan to construct an iron stand with two parallel pipe arms. Two standard water pipes were welded on the top of the stand. The stand height was 120 cm. A small wheel was placed at the tip of each arm. The wheel served as a turning point. A pair of trousers was placed on the two pipe arms, the bottom ends fixed at the wheels, and was easily turned inside out (Figures 3 and 4).

Figure 2: The original method of turning the trousers inside out.

Figure 3: Two pipe-arms with wheels at the end for inserting and fixing a pair of trousers.

Figure 4: Placing a pair of trousers on proper arms. They will be turned inside out when taken off.

The approximate cost of making the stand, including materials and labour costs, was US$ 20. The problem of skin irritation disappeared, with a reduction in medical expenses for its treatment. A slight increase was seen in production.

The wheels on the tips of this iron stand serve as fixtures for holding the trousers while they are turned inside out. This is a good example of how small mechanical aids can help eliminate unnecessary human arm motions. These aids can enhance productivity, thereby reducing strain and discomfort.

Case 3: A core-making workstation in a foundry

In a steel foundry in India which employed 60 workers, about 20 were engaged in making a variety of cores. These core makers, squatting on the floor, took core sand from a heap over one metre away. Then they made each core on a plate with the aid of a trowel, a venting rod and a rammer. Split-type wooden core boxes were used to form the cores. The work arrangement is shown in Figure 5. All the operations were performed on the floor, the squatting worker reaching for sand, searching for tools and scattering sand and cores around. The workplace was over-crowded and untidy, necessitating frequent rearranging and cleaning.

Figure 5: Original work arrangement for core making with the worker in a squatting position.

Seated workstations were introduced for better housekeeping and efficiency. For each worker, a bin made of metal and wood was made and placed on a workbench. The bin had an opening for scooping out the sand, with the bin bottom sloping towards the worker. A number of clips and brackets were added on the outer side of the bin for positioning the tools required for core making. The worker could sit on a stool. Additional, special places were provided for keeping water, nails and other materials and for empty boxes and finished cores. The new arrangement is shown in Figure 6.

Figure 6: A new workstation for core making. The worker is now seated.

The bins were made out of available drums. Cutting the drums and welding was done in the workshop. Each bin with a table and a stool cost about US$ 40. The number of cores made during a shift increased by nearly 30 per cent. The workers welcomed the new work arrangements which helped to reduce fatigue and keep the workshop clean.

This example illustrates appropriate work height, use of bins for easy reach, designation of places for tools and materials, and the use of gravity for making materials readily available. Accompanying benefits were the saving of space and improved housekeeping.

Case 4: Simplifying lathe operations

In the machine shop of an engineering factory in Burma, lathe operators who tapered the ends of square rods complained of injury risks and physical strain. The management was also dissatisfied with the low output from the lathes. A survey made by the production management staff and safety committee members established that clamping and releasing a square rod on a four-jaw independent chuck was complicated and strenuous. A few accidental injuries had occurred when the operators failed to take the chuck key off before switching on the machine.

The lathe design was modified so as to eliminate the work of clamping and detaching the workpiece in the chuck and to reduce the required work steps. A tool head with six radially-mounted single-point cutting tools was fixed to the lathe head stock spindle. A quick-release workpiece holding a feeding device was then mounted on the saddle. The device had a base frame with a square hole guide, a swivelling nut which fitted to the centre hole on the top surface of the base frame, and a feed screw with a handle at one end. The feed screw was used for feeding the workpiece into the revolving cutting tool head and releasing it. As the feed screw advanced, the taper was cut and stopped by a pre-set travel limit. Then the feed screw was unscrewed and again another cycle of operation ensued. To reduce the risk of accidental injury from the revolving tool holder, it was encased with a metal enclosure that had a square hole coinciding with the hole in the guide block.

Figure 7: Holding a workpiece on the chuck.

All these attachments were produced in the factory itself. The materials were from ready stock in the factory. A rough estimate of the cost by the engineers was US$ 400, including the cost of materials. The work process was simplified and far less effort was needed for machining. The rate of finished products increased from the previous level of 200 pieces per eight-hour shift to nearly 1,000 pieces. The accident risk was greatly reduced. Both the management and operators were satisfied with the new work method.

Figure 8: Tapering the rod on the machine.

Figure 9: A modified tool holder and new workpiece holding device with a square hole guide, a swivelling nut and a feed screw.

Figure 10: Modified tapering using the new method.

Figure 11: Metal enclosure for the revolving tool.

Case 5: Better placement of components and instruction sheets

In a factory producing radio sets in Indonesia, it was felt that the components to be installed on particle circuit boards and the instructions for the work were too far from the workers. Component boxes were placed on a table about 60-70 cm from each worker and the instruction sheets at a distance of 110 cm. The workers complained that often the instructions were not easy to read.

The placement of the components and instructions was improved and the environment of the workshop cleaned up. First, two-ties shelves were made from thick boards, which were readily available. These shelves were placed in front of each worker. Component containers were put on these shelves within easy reach of the worker. The distance the worker had to reach to the components was reduced to 40 cm. Second, new instruction boards were made. They were slightly smaller in size than the old ones. More space was made between the lines on the boards (0.75 cm instead of 0.5 cm). Each instruction board was placed much nearer to the worker, at a distance of 50 cm.

Figure 12: Original arrangements for instructions and circuit board components.

Figure 13: New placement of instructions and two-tier shelves for components.

As a result, the workers could reach components and read the instructions much more easily than before. Space occupied by the component boxes was reduced and inventory of components was made easier. Errors in the instalment on the circuit board were reduced. Cleanliness at the workshop also improved with the new arrangement.

The cost per worker was about US$ 2.50 for shelves and about US $0.50 for the new instruction boards (plastic, plywood and paper). The cost was small as all the necessary work was done by the workers themselves.

Case 6: Locking device for power loom levers

In a textile mill in Malaysia, a worker-management safety committee was formed to look into workers' safety, health and welfare. The committee found that many accidents occurred during cleaning or maintenance work when the power looms were started by other workers.

The maintenance crew fitted a hinged U-shaped safety catch to the starting lever of these power looms. Whenever a loom was repaired or cleaned, the lever was pushed towards the stop position and locked by the safety catch. This prevented anyone from pushing the lever and activating the loom inadvertently. This is shown in Figures 14 and 15.

Figure 14: U-shaped hinged safety catch locking the power lever of a power loom.

The committee then drew up a training programme for the workers. The programme included instruction on starting and stopping the power looms and related safety procedures. The committee also decided to organise safety seminars on a regular basis, i.e. every six months.

The fitting of safety catches to the starting levers of the power looms cost only US$ 5 per lever. The frequency rate of accidents was reduced by about 70 per cent. This level was maintained thereafter. In 1984, the factory achieved 255 accident-free days. This result was apparently due to the higher safety consciousness among workers. The provision of the locking device, which itself increased workplace safety, thus helped instil safety consciousness among the workers.

Figure 15: Diagram of the hinged safety catch.

Case 7: Fixtures for spindle moulding machine operators

In a spindle moulding section of a furniture factory in Burma, the moulding machine operation required particular concentration due to high injury risks. Various forms of spindle moulding were being done on short wood workpieces. The management, together with the safety committee, studied the operation and conventional safety measures. They found that a conventional guard was not suitable and sometimes caused injuries to fingers.

Figure 16: An operator holding the workpiece for moulding dangerously without any fixtures.

It was decided to design fixtures of different types so that an appropriate one could be selected for each different kind of form. The operators were then given some time for adaptation to these workpiece holding devices. It was then made compulsory for all workers to make appropriate use of the fixtures.

In addition, barriers were fixed to keep the point of operation as little exposed as the work would permit. The use of these barriers proved useful to further reduce exposure to risks of injury.

Figure 17: The operator using a fixture. The barrier is not shown for clarity.

Each fixture cost about US$ 20-30. These holding devices proved suitable for the type of work done on the spindle moulders. During a one-year period after the use of fixtures and barriers was started, no more accidents occurred in this section.

Figure 18: A vertical barrier which minimises the cutter exposure.

Case 8: Use of a pneumatic device

Workers in a shock absorber section of a car factory in Indonesia were complaining of muscular pains in the chest. This was due to the forceful efforts needed to pull shock absorbers to a standardised length before their installation. The required force was equal to around ten kilograms, lasting about 12 seconds. In addition, pulling the absorbers did not result in uniform length. Readjustment was usually necessary when the shock absorbers were installed.

The workers tried to find better ways of pulling out the shock absorbers. Of the three suggestions made, they selected the use of pneumatic pressure from an air cylinder. This seemed inexpensive as they could utilise an air cylinder and a solenoid valve available from broken spot welders. Using these and other materials, mostly scraps, a mechanical puller was made which could pull seven shock absorbers simultaneously.

Figure 19: Manually pulling out a shock absorber.

Figure 20: Seven shock absorbers being pulled to standard length by a piston air-cylinder.

There were several advantages of this new device. There were no more complaints about chest pains. The pulled length was uniform. It took 42 seconds for the device to pull seven units together, but this meant six seconds per unit, half the duration of that needed in the case of manual pulling. The cost incurred was practically nil except for the extra work by the workers themselves to construct the device.

Other inexpensive improvements using pneumatic systems were also reported. In the car plant in Indonesia, a pneumatic device was used to compress a glass plate to its holder. Before the device was designed, workers had been compressing the glass door manually with a wooden lever. The new device was made by utilising unused materials. In addition, shelves for the glass and other components were moved nearer to the worker. A place was made under the compression device for keeping rubber materials and glass holders. While the cost was also practically nil in this case, the benefits were multiple: the worker's movements were shorter, production time was reduced by about 25 per cent and the right shoulder stiffness of the workers disappeared.

Another example comes from a detergent factory in Thailand. In packaging detergent products manually, workers had to twist the upper part of the body and lift heavy boxes afterwards to place them on a conveyor line. The workers complained of low back pains. These pains seemed to affect work efficiency. A simple pneumatic device using an air cylinder was attached to lift each packed box up to the level of the conveyor line. The operations then could be carried out without strain.

The direct cost amounted to approximately US$ 400, including expenses for pneumatic cylinders, the conveyor belt and packaging platform. The labour cost was not included as the construction was done by the maintenance department during working hours. The investment was considered worthwhile as the packaging operations became much smoother.

Case 9: Multi-level chairs for furniture production

In the sanding section of a furniture manufacturing factory in the Philippines which employed 25 workers, the manager found that workers were complaining of back strain. It appeared that the complaints were related to various postures taken while sanding different parts of the furniture products. Rather bulky chairs were provided in this section, but the workers quite often did not use them. The chairs were too bulky to move around, and were not suitable to work at varying heights.

With the help of the workers, the manager was able to design a small multiple-level chair. The top and one side of the chair had a padded seat. The top was used as a seat when the level of the work was high and the side was used when it was low.

The chair was made of pine. It was light enough to be easily carried. It could be used flexibly depending on the height of the furniture parts being sanded. Five such chairs were made.

Figure 21: A worker sanding wood products using a multi-level seat.

The direct cost was minimal since the raw materials used were scrap pieces of wood and materials from the factory. With the workers' time in building the chairs taken into account, each chair cost approximately US$ 2. The total cost for making the five chairs was only US$ 10. Advantages from the use of these chairs included an increase in production and a reduction in complaints about backache.

The problem of providing suitable work chairs is often neglected, although chairs are used in many different kinds of work. Modern, comfortable office chairs are rarely used in workshops either because they do not meet the different needs of such workers or because they are too bulky. Appropriate chairs in workshops should allow flexible use, as illustrated by the present example.

Figure 22: The original chairs used in an electronics factory and a new adjustable chair.

An additional problem in improving chairs is the relatively high cost of good chairs available on the market. In the case of microscope work among female workers in an electronics factory in Pakistan, provision of better adjustable chairs required an outlay of about US$ 30 per chair. New chairs with adjustable backrests for 60 workers were purchased. In view of the resulting high quality of work, the management considered the cost a necessary and useful investment. Backache and elbow pains had been a common problem reported by the workers. An increase in work efficiency of over 10 per cent was seen after the purchase of the new chairs.

As this last example shows, good chairs are especially necessary in the case of work done in a constrained posture. Availability of good work chairs at reasonable prices seems necessary. It should be noted, however, that there are many ways to improve existing chairs using available materials.

Case 10: Cottage-industry workstations

In a village in Bali, Indonesia, there were about 70 households which were engaged in the production of household goods such as cutlery products which required blacksmith work. Previously, this work was done squatting or sitting on the floor (Figure 23). This was found to be inefficient and tiring. The villagers, in consultation with health experts, designed a new workstation for blacksmith work. Similar workstations were built in most households, mainly using concrete. Each workstation had in the middle a flat work surface about 80 cm high. A fireplace to heat iron was annexed to the work surface. The surface was broad enough for doing the main blacksmith work. Tools also could be placed on the surface. When necessary, work could be done together by a few people surrounding it. An example is shown in Figure 24.

Figure 23: Original methods for blacksmith work.

Figure 24: An improved blacksmith workstation with a broad work surface allowing work in standing positions.

The cost for constructing a new workstation ranged between US$ 40-100. The differences in the cost were due to the materials used. The re-construction plan was welcomed by these households. In almost all of them, all family members except children were doing blacksmith work. The workplaces were inside the house premises, but separated from the living quarters. This also made it easier to re-construct the workplaces. There were still some old-style workplaces left. But according to interview results, the villagers preferred to work at new workstations. The reasons given were increased efficiency, especially in the case of group work, and reduced fatigue.

Similar improvements were made in the ceramic cottage industry in a village in Bali. In this village, about 80 households were producing ceramic products. Potters were working at wheels sitting on a low makeshift seat. The wheel was rotated by using the feet to move a bamboo stick connected to the wheel shaft by a strap. A wooden worktable with a normal seat height was made using the same wheel rotation mechanism (Figure 26). The table surface was made low enough to allow the pot shaping work around elbow height. Space for the knees and feet was also considered. Each worktable cost about US$ 40. As the worktable could be easily carried, the villagers preferred to use it in some shady, open place.

Figure 25: Original workplace for a village potter.

Figure 26: A wooden worktable for a potter which keeps the traditional foot-operated wheel rotation mechanism.

2. Materials handling

Materials handling is performed by almost every worker in industry, either as a full-time job or as part of other work. It is often done by hand, though increasingly there is some mechanical help. As a rule, many tons of materials are moved for each ton of product produced.

In many industries, materials could not be processed at a reasonable cost if it were not for efficient handling and transportation of materials. Efficient materials handling is therefore an important element of productivity. There are, however, many possible sources of inefficiency, including strenuous or awkward ways of lifting, carrying or transporting materials; arrangements for feeding materials to machines which are inconvenient and time-consuming; unnecessarily long routes for moving materials; and lack of appropriate tools or handling aids.

Handling of materials accounts for a considerable proportion of occupational injuries. These injuries occur in almost every work area, not merely in stockrooms or warehouses. Common injuries include strains, sprains, bruises and fractures and the largest number of injuries occur to fingers, hands and feet. They are primarily caused by unsafe work practices, such as carrying too heavy a load, incorrect gripping, improper lifting or failure to observe proper hand or foot clearance. Lack of personal protective equipment, especially helmets, gloves and footwear, also accounts for many injuries.

In practice, easy, efficient and safe ways of handling and transporting materials go together. Many of the most effective improvements are simple and low in cost. For example, minor changes in layout or work methods can often reduce awkward or strenuous motions in moving materials or products. Special handling aids such as the correct size of boxes, adequate holding devices or jigs, hooks, hand trucks or carts can often sharply reduce time and effort. The layout of passageways and machines can be changed to improve work flow. Mechanical devices such as convey lines can be introduced. Machine feeding methods can be made more convenient, for example, by using magazines. Even with no new equipment at all, methods of lifting and carrying can be improved.

In the majority of the examples shown in this section, the cost incurred in carrying out the solutions is remarkably low. The cost in a few other cases depends on the types of mechanical aids introduced. The solutions are often easily apparent once there has been a careful examination of the ways materials are being moved.

Case 11: A simple wooden cart

In a furniture manufacturing enterprise in the Philippines which employed 35 workers, several workers had to interrupt their work every 15 minutes or so to get more materials. Because these materials were transported in bulk by hand, some materials were dropped on the floor. This affected the quality of the products. Though the supplies were located only about 15 metres from the workplace, the time spent going back and forth was surprisingly long if measured from the moment work stopped until it restarted, and multiplied by 30 or more times a day. Moreover, workers complained of fatigue in their arms.

The solution was to construct a simple wooden cart. No direct cost was incurred because surplus wood and other available materials were used. The estimated cost of the surplus wood was only about US$ 8. Indirect costs included the carpenters time, but this was also minimal. The cart could move enough materials to last each worker for an hour. One worker was assigned to supply materials as part of his general duties.

Figure 27: Use of home-made wooden carts which can be brought near each workstation.

The manager of the enterprise found that he had saved far more than the cost of the cart. The enterprise experienced a considerable increase in productivity. This, of course, was not entirely due to this one improvement in materials handling, but it made a contribution, not least because the workers stopped complaining of fatigue. Cracking and chipping of wood materials was reduced by about 90 per cent.

This example shows at least two important points. First, the improvement was neither costly nor difficult to design and construct. Second, the solution could have been easily ignored because, after all, the workers were not going very far for supplies. The observant manager noticed that more time was being lost than a casual look might suggest, and he listened to the complaints of his workers.

Case 12: A special cart for heavy loads

Moving heavy materials not only consumes a lot of effort, but often leads to accidents which damage material and may injure workers. In a company manufacturing bricks in India, this led to the design of a special cart for transporting the bricks on metal plates to the drying chambers. The factory, which employed 500 workers, was large enough to have a person who could design the cart after having consulted an ergonomist.

Figure 28: A cart with an iron plate for carrying bricks.

The cart was made from bicycle parts and iron angles from the factory workshop. The cost was bout US$ 100, including the time for design and construction. Maintenance costs were about US$ 10 a year.

By using the cart, workers were able to carry the bricks more quickly and with much less physical effort. Their productivity increased by about 15 per cent. In addition, damage to bricks during handling was reduced. Savings outweighed the cost of the cart. While the extent to which the physical effort of the workers was reduced could not be accurately assessed, they clearly benefitted appreciably.

A similar example was reported from Pakistan. In an engineering factory employing 100 workers, two push-carts were introduced for transporting finished products to the warehouse. Each cart cost US$ 100. The direct cost of US$ 200 seemed justifiable as absence due to injuries was much reduced among the transport workers.

Figure 29: Side view of the cart in use. Note the low position of the iron plate being carried.

Figure 30: A worker placing bricks on the iron plate.

In developing countries, there is often unnecessary physical exertion due to manual moving of heavy materials. Even when cost is an overriding consideration, carts and other mechanical aids constructed from local materials often pay for themselves by raising productivity and preventing damage to materials. The cost of potential injuries to workers should also be kept in mind.

Case 13: Improvements in carrying raw materials

In the raw materials unit of a household goods production complex in Thailand, there were complaints of back pains among those who were carrying and lifting 50 kilogram sacks of raw materials before dumping them into a hopper. To prevent back strain and reduce inefficiency, the safety officer and the plant manager discussed the problem and explored various possible solutions.

Together with some changes in work methods, a cart was designed and constructed and the slope of the floor improved. Small adjustments were necessary after a few trials. The cart was then used to carry the raw materials to the place where the sacks were dumped into the hopper. The direct cost was approximately US$ 740 for constructing the cart and improving the slope of the floor.

The workers welcomed the change, saying that the job became much easier. There were no more complaints of back pains after the improvement.

Figure 31: A new load carrying cart.

Case 14: Improving a shovel

The standard shovel requires continuous bending of the back to lift the materials handled. In a construction firm in Calcutta in India which employed about 25 workers as shovellers, there were complaints of backache and fatigue. By adding an additional handle near the base of the shovel, it was possible to significantly reduce the bending of workers' backs. Moreover, the distance the materials could be thrown increased by at least 25 per cent. Productivity also increased by 25 per cent. At the same time, complaints of backache and fatigue were reduced.

The cost of the improvement, made with local materials, was only about US$ 2 per shovel. However, this does not include the work of two ergonomists.

Figure 32: A worker using the old shovel. Notice his stooped posture.

The new shovel illustrates a number of interesting principles. It minimises back-bending postures and gives the worker greater leverage. The length of the new handle is adjustable to allow for the different size of workers. Above all, this example shows that even the most common Cools can be improved. Very often, a standard tool is provided to the worker without much thought on how it is to be used or whether there is a better alternative.

Figure 33: A worker using the modified shovel.

Case 15: Use of an appropriate lever

Lifting of heavy items is quite often done manually. In addition to the heavy weight of these items, they are usually difficult to lift due to the varying shapes and sizes. This was the case for the placement of wheels on axles in a truck manufacturing plant in Indonesia. Each wheel, together with tyre, weighed 50 kilograms and had to be lifted 50-75 cm. A tiring stooped posture was required.

Figure 34: Original working posture for lifting a wheel and tyre.

A spade-like device with two prongs was designed by the workers and introduced. It was nearly one metre long. Each wheel was first leaned against the axle and then lifted by this two-pronged device, which worked like a lever. After the wheel was properly installed onto the axle, the device was released. Because of the leverage, the force required was only 12.5 kilograms, or only one quarter of the weight of the wheel and tyre.

Figure 35: A lifting device designed by workers.

Figure 36: Use of the lifting device.

The cost for making the spade-like device was almost nil, as scraps were used and modified to form the device. The workers no longer felt the wheel lifting to be a heavy job.

Case 16: Improved methods of lifting

In a warehouse and packaging complex in Singapore with about 250 workers, there was a high incidence of backache and backstrain. In a few instances, slipped intervertebral discs occurred.

Data on causes of sick leave, worker injuries and complaints showed a relationship to the lifting and carrying of goods. The safety officer, personnel officer and general practitioner servicing the enterprise then drew up a programme to train the workers on the right methods of handling loads. Before the start of the training programme, the workers and line supervisors were consulted as to how and when the training should be conducted and their views were taken into account. It was decided to give half an hour's training to successive groups of approximately a dozen workers at a time. The safety officer and personnel officer served as instructors.

This training consisted of:

(a) a slide show on the anatomy of the back and lines of force when lifting and carrying;

(b) a talk on correct methods of lifting;

(c) a demonstration by either the instructors or volunteers on how to lift and carry various objects of different shapes and sizes either by one person alone or with others. The proper lifting method consisted of the following:

1. a good, firm grip
2. a straight back
3. proper position of the feet
4. the chin well tucked in
5. the arms kept as close to body as possible
6. proper co-ordination if lifting is done by two or more persons.

After the training, the safety officer frequently went around the worksite to observe if the workers really applied the techniques. The incidence of backaches and strains was reduced significantly over an observation period of twelve months following the completion of training for all the workers.

Direct costs were minimal, involving only expenditure of US$ 20-30 for the preparation of photographic slides and photocopying of notes for distribution to the workers. Indirect costs included workers' time off their work during the training and the time of the instructors. These costs were minimal compared to the total wage bill. Although no exact figures were available, it was estimated that the reduction of sick leave and the increase of efficiency made the solution well worthwhile.

Figure 37: The proper method of lifting step by step.

While this exercise was a success, it should be remembered that such short training courses require repetition. Not only do new workers need to be trained, but all the workers probably require refresher training at least once a year. It is also important to note that line supervisors have an important role to make sure their workers really use their newly-acquired knowledge at all times.

Case 17: Use of a pneumatic device

Awkward postures associated with the handling of materials and products can cause inefficiency, discomfort and muscle strain. Simple mechanical means are quite often an effective solution. This was experienced in a pressure vessel manufacturing plant in Thailand. Workers at the plant's leak test unit complained of discomfort and backstrain from bent postures required to push pressure vessels down into water for the leak test. The plant manager consulted engineers in the maintenance department and workers of the test unit on ways to eliminate the awkward postures.

Figure 38: A worker showing the original method of pushing down a pressure vessel in the water for a leak test.

The engineers came up with the idea of using a pneumatic cylinder to control the iron arms that held the vessels during testing. A pneumatic cylinder was installed at a cost of approximately US$ 75. The labour costs were not included as the work was done by the maintenance department.

Figure 39: The pneumatic cylinder used to push down the vessel.

Work efficiency improved and the handling of pressure vessels at the testing tub became much easier. There were no more complaints of work discomfort and back strain.

Case 18: Improved movement of materials to an assembly workshop

Materials handling costs were an appreciable part of the total production costs in a factory in India producing automobile parts. The section where the maximum amount of materials handling was done was selected for a layout study. This led to improved routes of access from stores to assembly workshops.

The original routes were circuitous. Automobile chassis, body and engine components were brought to the factory in 3.6 × 1.8 metre containers, each of which weighed as much as four tons. A mechanical hoist was used to pick up the containers from a bonded godown (warehouse), bring them to the factory entrance and place them on rollers on the floor. The containers then were manually pushed 30 metres along the rough and uneven ground to an open yard. They were opened there. After some components were carried to the main store, the remainder were stacked on trolleys which were pushed to the main assembly workshop about 75 metres away. Engine parts were taken on trolleys to the engine assembly line about 135 metres away. These long distances were due to the fact that there was only a circuitous route to the assembly lines.

Figure 40: Original transport routes.

Figure 41: The new time-saving transport route.

To improve handling, a sloped pathway was laid from the bonded godown to the unpacking section. Then the components for the main assembly workshop were carried by trolleys on a ramp directly connecting it with the unpacking yard. The engine parts were also taken directly to the engine assembly area. The transport distance was reduced to about one-third in both cases. In the case of transport to the engine assembly area, eight minutes could be saved per trip. Job hazards were also reduced.

Expenses of about US$ 1,000 were incurred to provide a sloped pathway from the bonded godown to the unpacking section, to make openings in the retaining wall and to provide a sloped ramp and a road along the wall. In addition to reduced handling time, the elimination of congestion and hazards were intangible savings for the company.

3. Housekeeping, storage and access to work locations

It is very important, from the point of view both of operational efficiency and of the working environment, to keep the premises of the worksite tidy and in good order. Means of access and exits must also be free from unnecessary obstacles. Good housekeeping contributes not only to better work flow but also to safety, health and comfort. It is an essential support to a good working environment.

Clear transport areas, easy access to worksites and storage areas help to achieve better work flow and internal transport. Bad housekeeping can often slow work down or create additional work. Badly stacked materials may fall and cause damage, delays and serious injury. A fire may be started if combustible waste is not regularly removed or if excessive quantities of flammable materials are kept in workshops.

Moreover, bad housekeeping can cause a very wide range of accidents. These include falls on slippery, greasy or damp floors; hitting or tripping over materials, machine parts or other obstacles left lying in passageways; cuts from objects protruding from work tables or cabinets; punctures from nails or other sharp parts on the floor; and failure of lifting or handling aids. Health risks also arise from dust and chemicals which should be cleaned up.

There are many low-cost measures which help maintain good housekeeping. If passageways and traffic areas and exits are properly marked and defined, this already helps a great deal. For the storage of raw materials, finished products, tools and accessories, special areas can be set aside. Storage racks at appropriate places can help keep working areas clear. Adequate receptacles for waste and debris should be conveniently placed. If these measures are designed so that they make it easier for people to maintain cleanliness and order, then their cooperation is easier to ensure. Just talking to people about tidiness or leaving it to the last few minutes of the working day will not be very helpful. Wherever necessary, day-to-day responsibility for clean workshops, sanitary facilities and yards should be assigned to specific groups of persons.

Case 19: Markings on the floor

In a metal fabrication factory in Metro Manila, the Philippines, which employed about 60 workers, there were no clear-cut passageways or specific work areas. This created an atmosphere of disorganisation and constant, imminent hazards. The owner made a study on how he could re-arrange the work areas. The first step he took was to install floor markings using yellow paint. This made it possible to clearly designate work areas and passageways.

Figure 42: Cluttered workplace before changes.

These markings greatly helped the workers to work in the proper areas. The workers were consulted on how to define these areas. The passageways, marked in the central part of the plant, facilitated the workers' movements. The owner went on to install small signs for each work area, such as 'welding area', 'assembly area', etc. Areas were also defined for storing metal sheets.

Figure 43: Welding area with markings on the floor.

The cost included about US$ 10 for paint, US$ 6 for labour for one day and US $6 for signboards. The total direct cost was about US$ 22. The results achieved were remarkable. The workers felt that there was now improved order and system in the work areas. The movement inside the plant was facilitated and its cleaning made easier. The owner reported that the markings taught the workers to arrange operations within designated areas and thus to keep order and cleanliness. He expected fewer accidents as a result of these changes.

Similarly, floor markings were effective in maintaining housekeeping in a printing factory in an industrial estate in Madras, India. Forty workers were working in the print shop. The manager had been complaining that the passageways, especially those leading to the main exit, were cluttered with piles of raw and printed materials. Yellow markings were painted on the floor which helped designate work areas and passageways. The cost was less than US$ 10. The manager noted an improvement in the flow of work and space utilisation. An unexpected byproduct was increased ventilation that allowed more fresh air to reach machine operators.

Figure 44: Floor markings for better housekeeping in a print shop.

Case 20: Access to work locations

There were many obstructions in the passageways of an engineering factory in Pakistan employing about 50 workers. These obstructions mainly consisted of disorderly piles of materials and finished products which made it difficult for the workers to get to their work locations. These obstructions often led to injuries.

Markings in yellow paint were made on the floor to demonstrate access to the work locations. At the same time, storage racks for finished goods were placed along the access routes. The management, with the co-operation of a supervisor, gave a short training class to the workers to familiarise them with the advantages of good access to work locations and of preventing injuries. This included an on-the-spot demonstration of a clear passageway versus an obstructed one. The supervisor also started to take initiatives in housekeeping. As a result of the training, markings, racks and the access route remained cleared.

Figure 45: Difficult access to an engineering work location.

The direct cost incurred included US$ 10 spent for paint, a brush and stencils as well as labour for painting the markings and US$ 20 for providing the storage racks. Savings were not immediately obvious, though they could include reductions in injuries and sickness absences and increased efficiency. The manager also mentioned that the workers had become more safety-conscious.

Figure 46: Easier access to work locations due to marking and clearing access routes.

A similar experience was reported in a garment factory in Bali. It was difficult for workers to approach their sewing machines, as the machines were crowded into a small space. With common sense measures, such as re-arrangement of the layout of machines and clearance of passageways, access to each work location was made far easier than before. Instead of arranging the sewing machines in a haphazard manner, they were now neatly arranged in rows with ample space in between. As a result, greater comfort and safety were achieved. The morale of the workers also became appreciably higher with less crowding and better housekeeping. The costs for these improvements were minimal compared with the results achieved.

Case 21: Handrails to clear space

In a Singapore electronics factory, it was found that goods were often stacked close to an emergency exit that was near a loading site. Repeated admonitions to the workers not to do so did not help. Lines were then drawn to demarcate limits beyond which goods should not be stacked, but these were ignored most of the time. Handrails were then constructed around the doors to create a clear rectangular space around the emergency exit. This proved effective. The exit doors were always found to be clear with no goods stacked up beyond the handrails. The fire hose placed near the exit was no longer blocked. The cost of building the handrails came to about US$ 250.

A similar idea was used at an engineering workshop in India which employed 40 workers. The approach to the main switches in an emergency was obstructed by bad housekeeping. Although there were handrails in front of the switches, materials and waste products were piled up along the handrails so that it was difficult to reach the switches. The manager placed a large wooden table along the handrails after removing all the obstacles and cleaning up the premises. No particular expenses were incurred. This table, along with the handrails, helped maintain easy access to the main switches.

Figure 47: Handrails to keep an emergency exit clear of obstacles.

Figure 48: Handrails in front of main switches. A table put in front of the rails to avoid piling up of materials.

Case 22: Storage shelves

In a garment factory in the Philippines with about 60 workers, the manager and production supervisors found the inventory and monitoring of finished and semi-finished goods difficult as they were scattered around. There was no centralised storage area and workers tended to pile the goods in various places in the workroom. The manager had to wait until the end of the day when supervisors submitted inventory reports.

The flow of goods and the existing storage system were reviewed. The manager drew up a new storage scheme, which included the use of storage shelves. Signs were also put up to identify semi-finished goods. The work area was re-arranged so that the storage area was accessible to the workers involved. Tags were put on the products.

The cost of the storage shelves, inclusive of materials and labour, was about US$ 300. The indirect cost for transferring the stocks to the shelves was minimal since this work was done as part of the normal production process.

The use of shelves with proper markings greatly facilitated the flow and the inventory of finished and semi-finished goods vis-is the production target of the day. In the past the manager had not seen the need for utilising shelves in the factory. Storage of materials had been left to improvised procedures. With increased production, the manager was forced to find a more effective system. Shelves were an excellent solution.

Figure 49: Newly-made storage shelves.

Case 23: Hire-net storage racks

In a shoe factory in the Philippines, storage of raw and unused materials and shoe lasts of various sizes was a problem due to lack of space. As the factory was surrounded by residential houses, it was impossible to expand the factory building. Easy access to the stored materials and lasts was also important as they could become necessary any time according to new orders.

To solve the problem, storage racks for shoe lasts were made of metal frames and wire nets. These racks could be piled up in such a way that any of the lasts could easily be taken out through the open upper front portion of the racks. The items could be easily seen through the wire nets. These racks were useful for storing a considerable amount of lasts and keeping the storage space in a corner of the workshop trolley. The racks cost approximately US$ 200.

A similar experience was reported from an engineering unit with 13 workers in India. The unit was producing satellite antennas. To eliminate haphazard piling of materials and semi-products in the shop area, racks were fabricated for stocking materials and semi-products. The racks cost US$ 420. The manager felt that the new practice of utilising racks contributed to better quality of the final products.

Figure 50: Wire-net storage racks for shoe lasts.

Case 24: Waste boxes

In a garment factory in the Philippines, cloth remnants were scattered all around the work area. This impeded the free movement of workers. After discussion in a meeting called by the manager, a wooden box was provided for each worker. Every day one of the workers was responsible for emptying the boxes at noon and after 5 p.m. in addition to his or her regular work. This assignment was rotated among the workers.

This measure was implemented a week after the workers were fully oriented to the change. The measure proved successful. The cloth remnants were now always placed in the box.

The total cost of constructing the boxes was US$ 102. Production increased by an average of 7 per cent. It was estimated that about US$ 15 a day was saved as a result of this measure.

Figure 51: Arranging waste boxes to help maintain good housekeeping.

Case 25: Trays for oil spills

In the packing section of a vegetable oil plant in India, oil was spilt while being transported over roller conveyors from tin-filling machines to seaming machines. In addition to the waste involved, the spills made the floor slippery. Ten out of the 50 employees of the plant worked at the packing section. To reduce spills on the floor and minimise wastage of the oil, steel trays with handles were provided below the roller conveyors. These trays could be conveniently removed and reinserted after the collection of the oil. The trays were 30 × 90 cm and were made with 20 mm thick mild steel plates. Each cost approximately US$ 100. Thirty such trays were made. The trays prevented spills on floor and thus avoided the danger of accidents.

Since the waste of vegetable oil previously amounted to two litres per day, the yearly saving on oil was over US$ 2,000.

Case 26: Skirting along drains

In a foundry which employed 118 workers in Malaysia, the drains were often choked by raw materials and process wastes washed into them, especially during the rainy season. When the drains were blocked, overflowing water disturbed the work flow. In addition, debris in the drains caused an unpleasant smell which caused the workers to complain.

Debris found in the drains was analysed to determine its composition. It was found that one section of the foundry was mainly responsible for the blockage. Once the problem area was identified, skirting was laid along the drain. The skirting was 10 cm high and 15 cm wide. Then mild steel grill covers over the drain were re-arranged to have smaller gaps of about 1 cm each instead of previous larger gaps. These measures effectively prevented drain blockages.

The cost of installing the skirting was about US$ 100. However, saving in overtime pay for gardeners for cleaning and flushing blocked drains amounted to approximately US$ 150 a month. Savings from the prevention of loss of raw materials was valued between US$ 6-10 per month.

Figure 52: Layout of the raw materials section before improvement.

Figure 53: Drain grills and skirting along the drain after improvement.

Case 27: Prevention of injuries with a simple device

In an office in Thailand, there were huge quantities of file folders placed in a series of steel cabinets which the clerks had to open and close extremely frequently. Sometimes some drawers were left open. The weight of the drawer contents would then tip the cabinet over and sometimes cause injuries to passing workers as a consequence. The office employed ten clerks and was part of a major warehouse in an import-export company.

The office manager drew the clerks' attention to the danger of leaving the file drawers open, but accidents still continued because of the turnover of staff and the rush of work.

The manager then had the warehouse workers fix an L-shaped bar to the back and top of all the cabinets. This bar effectively united the series of cabinets into one unit. The individual cabinets now could not therefore be tipped over if drawers were left open. There was no further falling over of cabinets and therefore no resulting injuries.

Figure 54: Cabinets prevented from tipping over.

The cost of the L-shaped steel bar, commonly used in warehouse shelves, was US$ 0.60 per 30 cm. The line of cabinets extended to 4.5 metres, so the cost of the bar was US$ 9. The labour time costs were minimal as the workers took only a few minutes to install the bar. The clerks took several minutes to clear and replace the files. The punching of holes in the cabinets were not considered a liability as the cabinets had no residual value when they were discarded. The savings made were not easy to estimate, but the most recent injury to the shoulder in that office due to falling cabinets had been estimated to cost US$ 45 in medical treatment and US$ 50 as sick leave for one week.

In other situations, e.g. warehouses, injuries also occur from falling objects as a result of bad and unstable stacking of materials on floors or shelves. Proper measures can likewise help prevent such injuries at minimal cost.

Case 28: Improving access to a frequently-visited work area

Access to a varnishing section situated in a 1.8 metre high mezzanine was a problem in a furniture manufacturing company in the Philippines. The company employed 27 workers and had an area of about 800 square metres. The workers had to carry goods up and down to and from the varnishing section. The section was about 50 metres away from the hand sanding section.

Figure 55: A varnishing section in a mezzanine.

A space of about 20 square metres in a wood storeroom was identified as a place for the transfer of the varnishing section. The place was situated next to the sanding section on the same level. It took two days for the workers to clear the stockroom. Installation of divisions and enclosures in the newly-created space was done by three workers in the following week. The varnishing equipment and other tools were shifted to the new area.

The direct cost involved amounted to US$ 100 for materials and labour. With the new location of the varnishing section, it was estimated chat three minutes could be saved per transfer of a smaller product such as a chair. This meant a saving of 12 working minutes per transfer in the case of carrying a bed as four persons were involved, and saving of 9 minutes per transfer in the case of carrying a table or sofa.

Figure 56: A wood storeroom transformed into a new varnishing section on the ground floor.

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)



































































E = 67.9








X = 11.3








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.