Case Study 12:
Automated Baler

Description of Operation

The facility manufactures paper packaging products. The intervention was performed on a waste paper baling operation.

Hazard Identification

The waste paper baling operation required that three operators spend approximately 30 minutes at the end of each shift (three shifts per day) loading paper scrap into the existing manually-loaded scrap baler. The operation was labor-intensive with operators grabbing armfuls of shredded paper and cramming the scrap into the baler. The operation required awkward lifting, twisting, and postures. An ergonomics risk assessment determined that, because of the various and continual ergonomic stresses present, the operation posed a high risk of causing a serious musculo-skeletal injury.

The facility had not experienced any ergonomic injuries associated with the baling operation but from past company experience the medical and disability costs associated with lumbar injuries averaged from $7,500 to $50,000 per injury.

Hazard Intervention

The company decided to eliminate the hazard by purchasing an automatic loading baler to fully replace the manual handling associated with managing the shredded paper scrap.

Impacts of the Intervention

The intervention completely eliminated the risks associated with the manual handling during the waste baling operation. The new baler takes waste directly from the packaging production equipment and automatically bales and stacks it. In addition to removing the ergonomic risks, the intervention eliminated the need for three operators to devote 30 minutes at the end of each of three daily shifts to hand-load scrap onto the old baler. The intervention also eliminated the need for operators to wear PPE for eye hazards and nuisance dust. From an operator morale viewpoint the intervention eliminated an unpopular task that was frequently rotated among the 47 production workers at the facility.

In addition to the direct labor saving benefits, the automated baler also reduced the amount of paper dust generated during the scrap handling operation. This resulted in less paper dust being distributed throughout the site, requiring less facility-wide cleaning while saving labor time and also contributing to a cleaner process and product.

The reduction in dust buildup was considered by the property insurance provider to have lowered the facility’s fire risk.

Financial Metrics

The 5-year net present value (NPV) of the project was -$1,385 using a discount rate of 8% and an inflation rate of 3%. The only costs included in the analysis were the labor savings from eliminating the need to manually load the baler and the capital cost of the baler purchase and installation. The costs associated with injury reduction, facility cleaning, and PPE elimination were not included.

Lessons Learned

Although the project did not yield a sizable financial return on investment, the intervention did return the company’s cost of capital while reducing a significant risk of injury due to manual handling. The project also illustrated that improvement in health and safety conditions often results in improved labor productivity. In this case the positive benefits of the intervention were transferable to other facilities within the company thus serving as a best practice for the corporation.