Anti-Fatigue Mats for the Standing Worker
By Lisa O’Dell, Vice President of Marketing, Wearwell
The word “ergonomics” is defined as “the natural laws of work”. Optimal performance, which many of us define as productivity, is the ultimate goal of ergonomic design. It’s therefore reasonable to expect that the implementation of ergonomic concepts offers tremendous value to any company, and can be realized with the creation of comfortable, healthy and safe work environments.
Providing anti-fatigue matting for standing workers is an excellent example of ergonomic design. Past research has shown that long-term standing on hard surfaces negatively effects worker’s productivity and health. On a simplistic level everyone knows that it's uncomfortable. On a more complex level, standing on hard surfaces is uncomfortable because leg muscles become static, continuously flexed in an attempt to keep your body in an upright position. In the short term, this reduces the natural flow of oxygen and blood back to your heart causing fatigue and blood pooling in lower extremities. In the long term, it will take a toll on your body in the form of varicose veins, low back pain, leg pain, and fallen arches, just to name a few of the most common ailments. The most functional, comfortable and effective solution for eliminating standing workers aches and pain is the use of well-designed anti-fatigue matting. These ergonomic products can play a huge part in injury prevention, the reduction of standing worker fatigue, and increased productivity.
Anti-fatigue mats work by encouraging subtle movement of leg and calf muscles. As the muscles contract and relax they pump blood back to the heart and eliminate blood pooling in the lower extremities which often occurs if a worker's muscles are totally static.
Once anti-fatigue mats are installed, it is very common to hear stories about how they dramatically help a particular employee. For example, a Rolls Royce assembly plant recently purchased anti-fatigue matting for several operations including welding stations. One of their employees, a 39 year-old welder, suffered from Plantar fasciitis, which is an inflammation of the connective tissue on the bottom of the foot. This is a very painful condition often caused by prolonged standing. Rolls Royce tried several remedies including gel insoles, which were found to be a nuisance and not very effective. After standing on Wearwell WeldSafe Anti-Fatigue Matting for several weeks, the production manager said that the welder was much more comfortable and had in fact stated that his work conditions are 90% improved.
As mentioned earlier, optimal performance, which many of us define as productivity, is the ultimate goal of ergonomic design. We know that uncomfortable workers tend to focus on their discomfort and not the task at hand. We also know that standing workers are less fatigued and feel less discomfort at the end of the day if they stand on anti-fatigue mats. This has been proven time and time again. To take this one step further, it is logical to assume that comfortable workers will be more productive. However, until recently, no studies have been conducted to investigate this theory. Driven by their customer’s desire to be able to justify the purchase of anti-fatigue mats, Tennessee Mat Company, manufacturers of Wearwell matting, decided to conduct a long-term study to test that very premise.
In 1998 Tennessee Mat was introduced to a local company that was experiencing a significant accident rate and a high level of absenteeism. Tennessee Mat offered to provide their workers with anti-fatigue mats in exchange for their participation in a long-term study.
The test was designed to determine if:
· Number of Employees: 175 in Manufacturing/Assembly
· Number of Shifts: Two (2) shifts
· Location: Small town (population < 5,000)
· Employee Tenure: Average of four (4) years
· Employee Age: Average – 41
The company faced several difficult issues, specifically a high injury rate and a high rate of absenteeism - as high as 10% on Mondays. From the outset, Tennessee Mat was curious as to whether or not the use of good quality anti-fatigue matting would moderate these issues.
The first step was to perform a complete Facility Assessment to determine the best mats for each area. It was the ultimate goal to install one type of matting throughout the manufacturing area. This would eliminate any deviation in test results based on the “comfort level” of the mats used. Unfortunately, this was not completely possible because there were several difficult areas that required matting with specific features. The manufacturing area contained the following applications:
Despite these diverse environments, Diamond Plate Anti-Fatigue Mats were installed in 95% of the facility (in all but two of the areas).
The second step was to design a a questionnaire, which would be completed before and during the study. This questionnaire assessed worker’s perceptions of their current work surface (i.e. Concrete), overall level of fatigue before and after work, and the fatigue and discomfort level of their legs and feet before and after work. Workers filled out the questionnaire three times a week for two weeks before the mats were installed.
After collecting that data, the mats were installed. As a comparison, the workers filled out the same questionnaire during the yearlong study as well. The results of the “Worker Perception” aspect of the study are very clear. The participants felt considerably less fatigued before and after work following the installation of anti-fatigue mats. In addition, the “at risk” areas of their bodies such as legs, feet and lower back, were much less uncomfortable when anti-fatigue mats were used.
Worker’s perception is very important, but the unique aspect of this study was that it revealed a strong correlation between the use of anti-fatigue mats and productivity. Before the installation of anti-fatigue matting, the rate of absenteeism and the “lost time” injury ratios were very high.
* Note: < 1 = better than average in their industry
Fifty percent of the 2.2% increase in productivity was due to lower absenteeism rates. And the other 50% can be linked to decreased down time due to lost time injuries. It is worthy of note that the company had an established workforce and did not implement procedural changes that could be linked to increased productivity.
All companies look to increased productivity as an effective method of boosting the bottom line. That is exactly what happened at this test facility. There were substantial “Hard Cost” savings (costs that can be specifically documented).
Cost Savings Related to the use of Anti-fatigue Mats
Total Cost Savings: $360,000.00
*The substantial decrease in absenteeism increased the average daily unit production.
In addition to the Hard Cost savings, there were other cost savings related to the use of anti-fatigue mats. According to the Human Resources department, the turnover rate dropped significantly so less time and effort was spent hiring and retraining. This also impacted productivity. Insurance companies calculate “Soft Costs” by multiplying the Total “Hard” Cost Savings by a multiplier between 2 and 6. In this case, Tennessee Mat chose to be conservative and used the lowest multiplier. The calculation for Soft Cost Savings is as follows:
Soft Cost Savings
Total “Soft” Cost Savings: $360,000.00 x 2 = $720,000.00
Test Results Summary
Not all companies have such dramatic results, but virtually all would tell you that anti-fatigue mats make a very positive impact on their employee’s morale and performance. To insure that the overall experience with matting is good, it’s important to:
Perhaps most importantly, always purchase anti-fatigue mats that adapt the work environment to the needs of the worker. This will ensure optimal performance and that is truly ergonomics at work.
Please visit American Floor Mats’ large selection of anti-fatigue mats or call one of our specialists at 1-800-762-9010 for assistance in choosing the correct mat for your application.