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How to Develop and Manage an Ergonomics Process

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A Best Practices Guide for the Reduction of Musculoskeletal Disorders in Food Distribution Centers


Cost:  Free to download, or $35 (plus sales tax for Ohio residents) for a bound, paper copy, via check, Visa, or MasterCard

ISBN:  0-9766187-0-2

To purchase a hard copy:  contact Candi McCain, 614-688-8241

Executive Summary:

The occurrence of occupational injuries and illnesses in the grocery warehouse industry (SIC 514) has a direct effect on the productivity of their employees, as well increases in costs due to lost productivity and medically related issues. Since a majority of these losses can be traced to the activities associated with moving the product through the facility, efforts to reduce the incidence and severity of the injuries resulting from this activity can have a positive impact on production as well as costs. This book, titled, A Best Practices Guide for the Reduction of Musculoskeletal Disorders in Food Distribution Centers, provides guidance to distribution centers (DCs) for the development of a process to address the hazards associated with the food distribution process, as well as the identification of both engineering and administrative controls that have been observed in many DCs across the country.

Because DCs use different systems for moving product through the facility (e.g., traditional order pick, belt-pick), Chapter III identifies factors that increase the risk of musculoskeletal disorders within each system observed. These factors consist primarily, among others, of bending and twisting of the back when selecting an order, repetitive lifting in awkward postures, and extended reaches.

For each type of distribution system, control strategies are identified and discussed. Chapter IV identifies engineering controls, and Chapter V addresses administrative controls. These control strategies were identified through observation at various DCs, as well as being based on ergonomics principles. 

Engineering controls are the preferred control strategy, as these controls can permanently reduce or eliminate the hazards associated MSDs. Engineering controls discussed include, among others, changes to the product (e.g., work with suppliers to decrease the weight of the heaviest products, adding handles to the cases), and strategies for changes in slotting (e.g., converting to more full slots, especially for heavier product and faster moving product, using risers or other methods to raise the pallets off the floor to reduce bending when selecting an order).

Administrative controls are secondary in preference, as they typically do not completely eliminate the hazards. Administrative controls identified, among others, include the use of job rotation to allow more varied activities, reducing overtime on regular work days, and providing training to employees on safe work practices. Finally, issues regarding medical management are discussed, with strategies aimed at adequate and prompt medical attention and return-to-work strategies.

Many DCs have safety and health programs in place, and several of these may address components of the ergonomics process identified in this document.  Therefore, it is not the intent of this Guide to completely revamp existing programs, but to instead enhance the safety and health of the food distribution industry through the application of observed best practices and application of ergonomics principles.