Norfolk Southern Ergo Cup competition

Aaron Lafon and James Snavely

Efforts to create safer, more efficient work spaces for employees through the use of ergonomics reflect our commitment to being a sustainable employer.

We get “ergonomical”: Employees take the physical out of daily tasks
Across Norfolk Southern, employees are using their creativity and experience to create a safer, more efficient work environment.

It’s part of our emphasis on ergonomics, an applied science in which workplaces are designed to allow people and equipment to work comfortably and efficiently while reducing potential for injury. Don Robinson, a nationally certified professional ergonomist, joined our railroad in 2011 to help improve operational efficiencies and reduce injury risks.

“Safer methods of work contribute to our sustainability efforts, and the efficiencies gained improve us from a competitive standpoint,” said Robinson, our manager of safety and workplace design.

In 2012, Robinson introduced the “Ergo Cup” competition to Mechanical Department shops, focusing on innovation, teamwork, and problem-solving. Employees from 19 shops developed and submitted ergonomic initiatives that led to productivity and safety improvements. Three certified ergonomists from outside Norfolk Southern judged the competition.

A team of four machinists at our Shaffers Crossing Locomotive Shop, in Roanoke, Va., won the competition. James Snavely, Aaron Lafon, Donnie Burnette, and Mark Shampine developed a piston compressor tool that makes it safer and easier to reseat pistons in EMD-manufactured locomotives. The tool allows for better body positioning and control, enabling machinists to stand on a running board and use the piston compressor as a lever. It replaced a T-handled tool that required significant force and awkward body positions to push down the piston. We are working with a vendor to manufacture the tool for use across our system.

Second place went to Decatur Car Shop, in Decatur, Ill., for an ergonomically designed welder trolley system, while our Enola Diesel Shop, in Enola, Pa., won third place for its “iron hand” storage cart.

Robinson plans to expand the Ergo Cup to include teams from our transportation and engineering departments. He is working with transportation employees on ergonomic issues they face while performing their jobs, and he is helping engineering staff develop a training video on back care and ergonomics.

Going national with ergonomics
In March 2013, for the first time, Norfolk Southern sent an employee team to the National Applied Ergonomics Competition in Dallas.

A piston compression tool designed and built by machinists at our Shaffers Crossing Locomotive Shop competed in the “workplace solutions” category alongside ergonomic projects from companies such as Toyota, Honda, Caterpillar, and Pratt & Whitney.

While our team did not win top honors, we gained national visibility among other FORTUNE 500 companies. Our team’s booth featured an exhibit that allowed attendees to test an old, difficult tool on an actual locomotive power assembly and then use the new tool designed by the team. Many ergonomists at the competition appreciated the innovative approach in its design.

“It was great to see our employees discuss and compare diesel engines with Cummins Engine and Toyota and to study the other ergo teams’ entries,” said Don Robinson, manager of safety and workplace design. “They mentioned to me other ergo improvements they already have planned. This is the ultimate goal.”

Safer methods of work contribute to our sustainability efforts, and the efficiencies gained improve us from a competitive standpoint

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