Volume 9, Issue 9 - October 2008


Don’t Be a “Jerk”
Weight-Guessing is Not the Best Option

In the movie The Jerk, Navin R. Johnson, played by Steve Martin, leaves home to “go out there and be somebody.” He eventually finds work as a weight guesser with the SJM Fiesta Show. He writes home to tell his family that there is a big future in weight guessing.

Some insulating glass (IG) assemblers must think there is a big future in weight guessing when handling large IG units. Weight guessing seems to be the most popular method of determining which IG units can be manually lifted and which units require mechanical assistance. There seem to be few regulations or policies defining how much can be lifted safely.

Many operators simply judge the weight of an IG unit based on size and previous lifting experience. They guess at the weight without considering a unit’s composition. They fail to realize that an unexpected variance in glass thickness or number of lites can make the unit much heavier than expected.

They also limit the use of mechanical equipment. Many hoists and lifts are parked and seldom used. When questioned about the unused equipment, most operators complain that the equipment takes too long to use, slows down the process, and they just “don’t have time.” It is easier to pick up large units individually or, when absolutely necessary, ask for help from a coworker.

Safer Solutions
Rather than guessing, there is a safer way to determine which glass can be carried by a human and which is better left to mechanical equipment. You can take the first step by determining the weight of the IG units you manufacture. Glass weight can be estimated using the data provided in the Glass Information Bulletin developed by the Glass Association of North America.

Once you know the weights of your IG, you should establish shop guidelines for handling large units by clearly defining which units require more than one individual or mechanical handling equipment to be moved.

In a 2004 Standard Interpretation, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) addressed the question, “Is there a policy or guide which states the maximum weight a person may lift?” The agency replied, “OSHA does not have a standard which sets limits on how much a person may lift or carry.”

However, the “exposure to hazards related to heavy lifting and back injuries can be addressed under section 5(a)(1) of the OSHA Act, commonly referred to as the General Duty clause. The general duty clause states that “Each employer – shall furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees.”

More Than Just Weight
The OSHA Standard Interpretation recommends procedures developed by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). These materials include surveys, improvement options and assessment tools that can be used to help predict the risk of injury based on the weight being lifted and many other factors.

Questions included in the Ergonomic Guidelines for Manual Material Handling include: “Is the object difficult to bring close to the body because of its size, bulk or shape? Is the load hard to handle because it lacks handles or cutouts for handles, or does it have slippery surfaces or sharp edges? Does the task require stressful body postures, such as stooping to the floor, twisting, reaching overhead, or excessive lateral bending? Does the vertical lifting distance exceed 3 feet? These and other risk factors can be found at the NIOSH web site (www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/ergon omics/default.html#lift).

Near the end of the movie, Navin realizes that the prizes he has given away are worthless and his weight guessing is “a profit deal.” Manufacturing insulating glass is also, “a profit deal,” but safety must come first.


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No reproduction of any type without expressed written permission.