Ergonomics in the warehouse aims at the adaptation and creation of workstations which, taking into account the human physique, enable the worker to carry out activities as comfortably as possible. At first glance, the aspect of cost-effectiveness appears to run counter to this: the increasing needs of customers for faster availability of the products ordered are putting immense pressure on companies and their workers in the face of global competition. The consideration of ergonomics at the workplace, however, has a positive effect on the economic aspect (e.g. through improved lighting conditions, a lifting limit by kg and varied work): The motivation of the workers increases and they are less likely to be absent due to illness. Moreover, in the course of warehouse automation, work processes can be accelerated and employees relieved with the help of cyber-physical systems.

Drivers for the consideration of ergonomics at the workplace

  • Physical limits despite increased performance expectations due to global competition
  • Absences due to illness caused by physical strain
  • Demographic change
  • The demand for appealing workplaces
  • Expected increase in performance through varied work
  • Corporate responsibility towards company employees

While the work steps in the warehouse (e.g. order picking, packing) have to be carried out faster and faster, human resources remain limited by nature. According to the statistics portal Statista (German Source), diseases of the musculoskeletal system will be the main cause of sickness-related absences in the years 2010-2015, at 21.7 percent in the last instance. In addition, demographic change and the growing demand for attractive jobs in the logistics industry, the ergonomic design of workplaces will increasingly come into focus.

According to the evaluations by Statista, Germany expects society to shrink from the current 80.000.000 to around 65.000.000 people in 2060. Because there are too few young people, the industry is dependent on the employment of older persons. In addition, the younger generation will have to reckon with a two-year increase in the retirement age to 67. These facts will ensure that the average age of employees will also increase. This poses challenges for intralogistics. For example, a sixty-year-old employee cannot cover the same distances and carry the same loads as a thirty-year-old employee. The industry needs solutions that provide an individual and healthy work routine for every age group and body condition.

Examples of ergonomics in the warehouse

For the operation of shelving zones in the warehouse, logistics provides a meaningful allocation for the storage of goods, which, depending on weight, priority and picking frequency, enables ergonomic picking by the worker. The division of a shelf is therefore divided into the bending, gripping, viewing and stretching zones, which is based on the operation by an average-sized adult.

Because storage and transport in intralogistics are still one of the most accident-prone activities according to the German Employer’s Liability Insurance Association for Health Service and Welfare Work (BGW), it has developed measures that companies can use as a guideline for safety and ergonomics in the workplace. In order to protect workers and the ergonomics of their workplaces, these directives include, for example, ensuring free movement, sufficient workplace space, good lighting conditions and a comfortable indoor climate.

Further precautions for providing a healthy workplace are the reduction of work noise and the avoidance of unnecessary walking distances, which can be achieved by using an efficient material flow computer (MFC). In addition, batch formation makes a targeted contribution to the best possible route utilization through sensible order combinations.

Cyber-physical systems are increasingly being used to provide physical relief for warehouse staff. These interlink employees and machines by combining their electronic and mechanical work steps via an interface such as an MDT. The employee’s activity is to be automated to such an extent that he does not perceive the machine as an operating device, but rather as a self-contained work process.

Corporate responsibility and employee satisfaction

The best possible consideration of health aspects in the workplace also brings the aspect of varied work design into focus. Activities within a warehouse that require, for example, walking, bending, or lifting heavy loads, are subject to monotony that puts an equal strain on both the physical and the mental health, even with regulating limits based on kilograms, kilometers or time frames. In practice, the solution could mean for the employee, for example, after completing a three-kilometer walk, a change of workplace to a seated activity.

To meet the responsibility of companies towards their employees in the warehouse, a control center can help to plan and distribute tasks ergonomically.

In addition, the article ‘Material flow control as a service for a distribution center‘ provides you with information on how the flow of goods in intralogistics is channeled through the warehouse as quickly as possible with regard to economic efficiency.

Teaser image: Lesconvoyeurs (Lizenz: CC-BY-SA-4.0)

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