There are many reasons for implementing a job rotation system, including the potential for increased flexibility in production, increased employee satisfaction and lower MSD rates. However, establishing a rotation system that properly determines job rotations and monitors their safe use is not a simple task. There are many issues to consider and no official protocol or methodology to call upon. The successful implementation of a program requires teamwork from all parts of the organization, including management, union, medical providers, and especially the employees themselves.
Many job rotation systems have failed because of lack of planning and lack of foresight into the problems and short¬comings of rotation. It can prove more difficult than it might seem at first glance, since it involves changing the organizational structure of an entire facility.
The following materials provide systematic guidance for setting up a rotation system. This guidance should be viewed as a starting point for further discussion by workplace personnel.
There are two major categories of roadblocks that are often encountered in setting up a job rotation system:
The first set of difficulties are associated with the challenge of changing the work structure and not from the job rotation in and of itself. Examples of problems include:
• Experienced workers not wanting to learn new types of work.
• Employees not wanting to “lend” their equipment to others.
• Pre-existing differences in wage levels among employees whose jobs are to be rotated.
• High-seniority employees who have “paid their dues” working at difficult jobs may believe that they have earned their right to easier jobs and may resist going back to more difficult work.
• Practical problems of physically getting from one job to the next.
The other set of difficulties have to do with issues surrounding the rotation schedule itself:
• Difficulties in finding appropriate jobs to rotate to (for the goal of reducing MSDs)
• Difficulties for employees in learning the subtleties of some tasks and thus end up increasing the physical demands.
• Inability of some employees to be physically able to perform the most difficult tasks
• Education and training of workers for new jobs
• Inconsistency of application
Job rotation alone does not change the risk factors present in a facility. It only distributes the risk factors more evenly across a larger group of people. Thus, the risk for some individuals can be reduced, while the risk for others can be increased. However, there will be no net change in risk factors present. This can be shown in the following graph.
When employees rotate between two jobs the risk exposure can be thought of as being “averaged.” Job rotation may drop the average to within a safe level, or raise the whole group in excess of safe limits. Unfortunately, it is not possible with current knowledge to determine what the safe limit is. For this reason it is prudent to be cautious about job rotation. Engineering changes should remain the goal of the ergonomics program.
If the jobs being rotated involve the same muscle-tendon groups then the benefit of MSD risk reduction is lost. Thus, rotation among jobs that are similar is not appropriate. Situations that are best able to benefit from job rotation are those where, for example, a wrist intensive task is adjacent to a back-intensive task.
Additionally, if the rotation is too infrequent, such as a daily rotation, the benefit may also be lost. Typically, employees should rotate every two hours. An hourly rotation is probably better and a four-hour rotation probably the maximum that would provide any benefit from an MSD perspective.
The following is excerpted from the OSHA Ergonomics Program Management Guidelines for Meatpacking Plants:
Job rotation should be used with caution and as a preventive measure, not as a response to symptoms. The principle of job rotation is to alleviate physical fatigue and stress of a particular set of muscles and tendons by rotating employees among other jobs that use different muscle-tendon groups. If rotation is utilized, the job analyses must be reviewed by a qualified person to ensure that the same muscle-tendon groups are not used.
A “qualified person” is one who has thorough training and experience sufficient to identify ergonomic hazards in the workplace and recommend an effective means of correction; for example, a plant engineer fully trained in ergonomics – not necessarily an ergonomist. In analyzing jobs for rotation, the qualified person must have sufficient expertise to identify the ergonomic stresses each job presents and which muscles and tendons are used.
Job rotation can mean that a worker performs two or more different tasks in different parts of the day (i.e.. switching between task “A” and task “B” at 2-hour or 4-hour intervals). The important consideration is to ensure that the different tasks do not present the same ergonomic stressors to the same parts of the body (muscle-tendon groups). There is no single work-rest regimen that OSHA recommends; it must be determined by the nature of the task.
These excerpts indicate the importance of establishing a formal, documented job rotation system which carefully matches jobs. This matching system should ensure that different muscle-tendon groups are emphasized.
For best results, it is important to quantify or score the risk factors associated with each of the tasks that are to be rotated. There is no established system or protocol for these scores and you will need to select or develop a system that is appropriate for your site and the tasks in question.
Typically, a score would be calculated for each job for (1) the hand and wrist, (2) the arm and shoulder, (3) the lower back, and (4) the overall job difficulty. How¬ever, other factors and body parts may need to be taken into consideration depending upon the tasks.
Whatever scoring system is used, it can be helpful to convert your final results into “red,” “yellow,” and “green” to represent high, medium, and low risk. Thus, a good rotation would a job with a red score for the lower back and one with a green score for the lower back.
To realize the beneficial aspects of job rotation it is necessary to establish definitive internal guidelines that insure consistent application and at the same time allow for restricting employees from rotating into jobs they cannot perform. To ensure that all job rotations meet basic ergonomics requirements a consistent and systematic approach is required.
It is probably best to start slowly at first, such as in a pilot work area so that the program can be further refined before being implemented elsewhere.
Steps for Implementation
Step 1: Hold an employee meeting to determine interest and gain involvement and input. During this meeting it would be appropriate to have a short presentation on ergonomics and job rotation. The purpose here is to build upon the ergonomics training already received and further it by discussing the relationship between it and job rotation. At this time it would be appropriate to issue a Job Rotation Questionnaire (see below).
Step 2: Calculate the scores for the jobs considered for rotation. Use these scores to establish which jobs should be rotated with which. In general, decisions about the suitability of a particular job rotation should be based on the following:
Step 3: Apply a common-sense review to ensure that the logistics of the proposed rotation are suitable and that the job rotation seems reasonable. Also, review the job rotation scheme with the affected employees. The employee concerns and insights should be taken into account. If necessary, changes to the list should be made, and final approval for the list obtained.
Step 4: Provide employees with any training that they may need to perform the tasks or handle the tools and equipment. In general, experienced employees going to a new job should receive the same training requirements and documentation that a new hire must have before starting in that position.
Step 5: Provide employees with adequate break-in time to ensure that they are fully qualified and physically conditioned to perform their new tasks. Similar to training requirements, the same guidelines for new hires starting out should apply to experienced employees starting in a new job. Even if the employees have performed the job previously, they should generally be allowed the break-in period to become accustomed to the work again.
The training and break-in period enables the employee to develop those subtle work techniques needed to perform the task the easiest way and thus minimize the risk factors. This also suggests that the number of jobs included in a particular rotation should be kept to a minimum, perhaps two or three, allowing the employees to become “experts” at each task.
Step 6: Begin job rotation.
Step 7: Monitor the new rotation to ensure flexibility and consideration for individuals that are having difficulty performing new tasks. Assess if further training, break-in, and/or accommodations can be made for these individuals.
Step 8: Hold follow-up meetings with employees to evaluate the job rotation. Survey the employees using the job rotation questionnaire again. Compare results to the initial survey. If results are favorable then continue rotation. If results indicate a problem then decide if corrective action is needed or if rotation should be discontinued.
Step 9: Track other measures such as injury rates, turnover, employee satisfaction, or workers compensation to determine effects of the job rotation.
These steps should be viewed as options and starting points for further discussion by the site ergonomics team and other interested personnel. This framework was written with a particular company and industry (meatpacking) in mind, and you may have different needs and applications. The objective here is to show you one approach for developing a formal, consistent, and systematic method of job rotations that are based on the requirements of the jobs.
To help you make sure that all of the steps of the process are completed and documented, you may find it helpful to use the Job Rotation Checklist found on the following page.
Role of Ergonomics Team
Anyone should be able to suggest job rotations, including supervisors, production employees, or union officials. However, the job rotation scheme should be approved by TeamErgo with input from the affected employees before being implemented.
Job Rotation Checklist
The following must occur for each job rotation set-up.
Jobs proposed to be rotated are:
__ Has an employee meeting been held to determine interest and gain involvement and input?
__ Has each task involved in the proposed rotation been reviewed with the Physical Job Analysis checklist to determine precise requirements and has a Job Rotation Worksheet been generated?
__ Has common sense been used in evaluating job rotation possibilities?
__ Have all employees involved in the rotation schedule been trained to do all tasks?
__ Have all employees been provided an adequate break-in priod to insure they are:
__fully qualified to do all tasks?
__physically conditioned and accustomed to do the job?
__ Have flexibility and consideration been given for individuals in the rotation schedule? Are there any employees who would have physical difficulty in performing all the tasks? Can accommodations be made for these individuals?
__ Have formal follow-up evaluations using the Ergonomics Team and supervisors been conducted?
__ Are benefits or problems being tracked (increased or decreased injury rates, turnover, employee satisfaction, workers compensation costs, efficiency, quality, etc.)?
Base Line Rotation Questionnaire
Name: ___________________________ Date: ___________________
Job Title: ____________________________
1. Are you currently rotating jobs?………………………. Yes No
If no, go to the next question.
a. Do you like it?…………………………………. Yes No
b. If no, why not?
c. To what jobs do you rotate?
d. How often do you rotate? 1/2 hour hourly two hours Other ____________
e. Have you received appropriate training for the jobs that you rotate to? Yes No
2. If you answered no to question 1:
a. Would you like to rotate?……………………… Yes No
b. If no, why not?
c. If yes, to what jobs would you like to rotate?
3. Please stop and fill out the Discomfort Survey form!
4. If you indicated on the form that you were having discomfort, have you seen the nurse?
5. Are there any other comments that you would like to make?