In any discussion of how to run an efficient and safe dry bulk handling facility, the focus is often on equipment rather than on the people and their work environment. This can create problems. It doesn’t matter how technologically impressive the equipment in the stockyard is, if the operator is fatigued, uncomfortable and has poor lines of vision, that will affect productivity and can create safety risks.
This is where ergonomics — the study of efficiency in the working environment —can play a role. In a dry bulk facility, an ergonomically designed work environment ensures that the operators of stackers and reclaimers are working in a comfortable space that promotes their health and enables them to stay focused on the job.
There is still some way to go in this industry. “Awkward posture and vibration continue to affect operators’ wellbeing” says Stephan Stiehler, director of marketing – Asia Pacific & Middle East, for Brieda Cabins. “Ergonomic control stations can alleviate these problems, reduce injury and increase efficiency,” he added.
The benefits of good design
Brieda Cabins, which celebrated its 40th anniversary last year, is an Italian specialist in ergonomic cabins, control stations and desks for manned and remotely-operated cranes. It has engineered some of the most advanced cabin environments across a range of machinery, including stackers and reclaimers. The statistics back up the importance of their work – a 2002 study showed that between 44 and 77 per cent of crane drivers reported neck issues and between 67 and 86 per cent complained of lower back pain. Tests carried out at the University of Milan in collaboration with Brieda Cabins showed that ergonomic station configuration will alleviate poor posture and the resulting injury.
Last year Brieda Cabins used some of the findings from its research with the University of Milan to co-write a new information paper on Crane Operator Health & Safety by the Port Equipment Manufacturers Association (PEMA). The paper included 20 key recommendations on how to improve cabin ergonomics and safety for drivers.
In terms of safety, better design can improve visibility, which can often be limited in cramped crane cabins, and reduce the force needed to operate joysticks. This makes them easier to control and lowers fatigue. On a practical level, installing the latest ergonomic cabin equipment will offer an immediate practical benefit in reducing work absences and increasing the efficiency of operators.
Brieda Cabins provides crane cabins that can work in ship unloaders, stackers and reclaimers as well as the full range of shipyard cranes. These include dynamic control stations that have been designed in accordance with the European Standard EN 1005-3/4/5 and traditional control stations. Their products feature in stackers and reclaimers all over the world. Recent clients include Buhler, Siwertell AB, Industrias Mecanicas ASCA S.I., Cavotec and the equipment is used in locations from Australia to Switzerland. Brieda also provides customisation from a safety perspective as well as for practical considerations.
Applying these principles in the office
The trend to increase automation and introduce remote control of dry bulk handling equipment does not mean ergonomics is less important. Operators in an office environment are still responsible for handling millions of dollars worth of cargo and shouldn’t be using a basic chair and standard interface to do their work.
To meet this challenge, Brieda Cabins has designed and tested ergonomic remote-control desks and simulation technology. A team from Brieda Cabins has also worked closely with the Port of Virginia to launch a pioneering new Remote Ground Control Station. This has a layout that combines the crane control seat and an arm box control panel with a remote desk that can be customised to present specific information on screen, enhancing communication between teams and boosting operational efficiency. This has been designed specifically for the cantilever rail-mounted gantry cranes in use at that port, but the principles could easily be adapted to dry bulk equipment.
The design recreates some of the cabin environment while in a control room, which encourages operators to maintain the same high focus and levels of concentration while in an office. It also reduces the different strains that arise when operating cranes from a desk, such as looking up at a bank of screens rather than down and to the side as you would on a crane cabin. Using a Brieda Cabins design the demand on eye movement is reduced to an arc less than 70 degrees and joysticks are placed in a special recess to reduce strain on wrists.
Giving operators the right tools
While these steps may seem common sense, Stiehler says that the importance of making sure man and machine are working in harmony is often underestimated when changes to cargo handling facilities are considered. “Equipping them with the right ergonomically-designed tools and working environments to stay healthy, safe and productive is a wise investment.”