Achievements and Reults

-   Potential for injury to mentally challenged workers reduced

-   Operations of sheltered workshop evaluated and reformed

-   Workstations adjusted to be more ergonomic and efficient

-   Best possible alternatives proposed in several special cases


The Problem

The expert was asked by a regional non-profit organization to evaluate the operations of a sheltered workshop to help better serve their workers and reduce the potential for harm to them and their own staff. The goals that were set by the organization were complicated in some respects, as the employees were physically and mentally challenged; while they were able to work and understand what they were supposed to do, they could not always express how they felt. This made the staff’s understanding of the workers considerably more complicated. And, in such cases, there was always a potential for unintended injury to the workers or to the staff assisting them.

The sheltered workshop under study was a light manufacturing and assembly firm where physically and mentally challenged adults performed paid work during the day; the actual production work was subcontracted by local and regional companies. This work is valuable to the individuals, their families, and society, because it serves as  therapy and as a means of reducing or even eliminating the time the individuals need to spend in treatment or care facilities.

Typical projects performed regularly in the shelter included: wire harness work, where the workers installed electrical connectors and then labeled the wiring harness used in heavy duty trucks; packing variety seasonal beers into six packs for a regional brewery; boxing different types of wines into a case to create sampler cases for a regional winery; and creation of variety gift boxes for a specialty cheese, meat, candy, and fruit distributor. 

These were all done by creating basic work cells in a large warehouse, then walking  the workers through the task until they were competent at it, or in some essential sub-function. The staff then supervised coached and, as needed, assisted workers in completing their duties.


The Solution

In addressing this assignment, the expert began by first making a brief tour of the facility and work stations.

After the tour, he provided basic education to the shelter’s staff on workstation ergonomics, work design, work flow, manual materials handling, and ergonomics risk factors. The staff who received this education included the site manager, human resources director, floor manager, supervisors, and lead workers and trainers.

This training was then followed by several walkthroughs of the operations to identify specific examples of the issues discussed. The expert used the information from the walkthroughs to develop more efficient and more ergonomically correct work stations, work methods, tools, equipment, and work flows. 

Issues in materials handling and potential ergonomic or production issues were identified. As possible, alternatives were discussed and suggested. In some cases, due to the very limited budget available and the capacities of the workers, the “best” alternatives were not possible or feasible. In these cases, the expert would work with the staff and supervisors to try and develop the “best possible” or “most useable”  alternatives, paying special attention to what not to do.


Benefits Realized

With such a facility it is very difficult to determine the overall success of the expert’s intervention, due to such factors as high employee turnover, but in subsequent years, the expert has been asked back to evaluated specific issues and has noted that a large number of the suggested ideas were adopted and implemented.


To see the resume of the expert associated with this case study, see the link below.

Resume of RYJ Ergonomics, Risk Assessment, and Design Expert Consultant


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Peter Habicht, Lead Consultant
Peter specializes in welding and metallurgical engineer with 40 years industry experience in commercial nuclear power plant construction.


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