Case study: Overcoming challenges to worker involvement

A truck manufacturer in the North-East wanted to capitalise on the knowledge of their workers in managing noise and vibration issues but knew they would have to rise to the challenge if they were to reap the benefits.

The challenge

A project to tackle hand-arm vibration issues was only going to work if management could gain workers trust and co-operation. They realised this was not going to be easily achieved when workers were asked to keep a record of what tools they used and for how long and only four forms from a workforce of 78 were returned.

Overcoming the problem

From the poor response rate, management quickly realised that their staff were suspicious about why they were being asked to record the information requested. They learned that workers' trust was vital before they could really get them involved in what they were trying to do.

So they arranged for some training to raise awareness of the health issues involved when using vibrating hand tools and explained that they couldn't fully address the situation without their workers help.

Project leader said:
"We assured them that what we were doing certainly wasn't a front for some kind of time and motion survey! The result - nearly everyone filled in and returned their forms."

By talking to the workers and involving them in solving the problem, the company found out that workers become "attached" to their hand tools. If they did the job well, they'd continue to use them, no matter how old the tools were or how much vibration they caused.

Towards joint-problem solving

A tool amnesty was held, production lines were re-tooled with efficient, low-vibration equipment and workers were told about the risk and how to avoid it.

When you start to involve workers, you learn such a lot about the problems and issues they face during their working day. The whole point of worker involvement is that you need to listen to what your people have got to say and get them involved in developing the solutions.

Suggestion scheme

The company set up a suggestion scheme, complete with boards around the production line where staff can raise any issue they like. Every week, teams check the boards, note any suggestions that come under their area of responsibility, and consider what action they can take. A staff member's suggestion card remains on the board until they are happy it's been acted on - only they can remove it.

And the result?

They've had hundreds of suggestions in the six months the boards have been up, and made dozens of improvements as a result.

The changes we've seen over the last 12 months have been incredible. At first, workers weren't sure exactly what this initiative was about, but once we saw improvements being made, everyone soon got on board.

As a result, we now have fewer absences, a happier workforce and quality and productivity are up. Every company should get its workers involved.

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