News, trends & tactics in the February 2011 issue of Industrial Engineer
12-hour work shift blues
Nurses may love them, but research shows they’re not a best practice
For patient safety and the health of nurses, eight-hour shifts beat 12, according to an associate professor at the University of Maryland School of Nursing.
Jeanne Geiger-Brown, a registered nurse and a Ph.D., said high quality longitudinal studies have shown that 12-hour shifts expose nurses to more workplace stressors over an extended period. Essentially, their dose of work and whatever makes work hazardous is higher. And because 12 hours often extend into 12.5 or 13, her research demonstrates that nurses often get only five and a half hours of sleep between shifts.
This phenomenon causes acute and chronic woes for nurses. Accidents, injuries, slips, trips, falls and problems related to sticking needles into human beings all increase, Geiger-Brown said. Chronic problems include intershift fatigue, a concept in occupational health that is thought to be a precursor to the metabolic and immune system changes characteristic of chronic fatigue. Over a period of years, people chronically deprived of sleep suffer from hypertension, obesity, diabetes and other ailments.
Geiger-Brown said it’s important that industrial engineers look at planning and scheduling at their healthcare facilities. Although the popularity of 12-hour shifts means the healthcare industry likely won’t eliminate them soon, schedulers can mitigate the problems.
For example, fatigue risk management software can be applied to help limit the number of 12-hour shifts in a row. Plugging in variables such as a nurse’s age, actual hours worked and commute time lets the software see risk patterns as they develop over time. Depending upon results, some nurses could be allowed to work three 12-hour shifts in a row, but not four. Supervisors could use the software to decide which nurse works longer to cover for somebody who is late, or which nurse to call in to replace a sick worker.
“If you had risk management software, you could look at the ... people that are there and say person A and person B can’t work any more time because they’re already in the red zone, but I could ask person C, and if they couldn’t do it, person D would be marginal but acceptable,” she said.
Respite rooms for naps – no more than 20 minutes – also would help. And a slush fund should pay cab fare to and from work for nurses too exhausted to drive. After all, Geiger-Brown noted, the World Health Organization classified night shift work as a carcinogen.
“People are hardly ever going to use it, but the time they do use it, it’s going to save somebody’s life,” she said.
And just as important, 12 hours should be just that – 12 hours. IEs could analyze systems to find out what processes could be shifted or simplified to make 12-hour shifts a reality.
“Getting out on time should be a guarantee 99 percent of the time instead of a wished for rare occurrence,” Geiger-Brown said.
On their own, nurses need to take regular breaks, not sit at their stations eating sandwiches while listening to IV pumps or watching cardiac monitors. OSHA calls for several breaks during 12 hours of work, but that’s rare in nursing. And if staffing issues preclude such breaks, nurses have to advocate for themselves because it’s their health – and the health of their patients – that they are risking.
Panama Canal improvements could take shipping from West Coast
Logistics could become easier in the eastern United States, thanks in part to the Panama Canal.
According to a new report by the ProLogis Research Group, the Norfolk Southern and CSX railroads – which dominate that sector of the country – are combining with East Coast ports to fund billions of dollars in capital improvements in the rail service between the ports and major Eastern and Midwestern population centers.
The report from the global provider of distribution facilities said that the $5.25 billion expansion of the Panama Canal is spurring the improvements. The expansion, when complete in 2014, will allow much larger trans-Pacific container ships to transit the canal. The bigger the ship, the more shippers save in fuel consumption.
The logistical improvements in the eastern U.S. have supply chain professionals believing that the East Coast ports will take away market share currently held by West Coast ports.
Logistics officials already have been diversifying the ports they use because of the congestion, delays, rising user-fees and labor strife at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.
Be professional. Be hired
Survey finds new graduates lack proper business behavior
December IE graduates looking for a job might want to take a look at results of a nationwide survey about professionalism among young workers.
According to researchers at the Center for Professional Excellence at York College of Pennsylvania, 37.3 percent of respondents thought that less than half of all new graduates exhibited professionalism in the workplace, virtually unchanged from last year’s 38.2 percent. The study added a new component – current college students and recent graduates – in its second year. Student responses nearly mirrored those of business leaders and human resources professionals.
The study of more than 400 business leaders and human resources professionals found that young workers lacked in Internet etiquette, the ability to accept personal responsibility, and the ability to accept constructive criticism.
The good news for students looking for jobs is that they can control how professional they act. And, as Figure 1 shows, a higher percentage of students who are near graduation recognize professionalism’s importance. That’s a positive, because 96.3 percent of respondents said professionalism factors into hiring decisions. The top method for determining professionalism was the ability to communicate, with attitude or demeanor playing heavy roles.
Look overseas, small manufacturers
As the death of U.S. manufacturing continues to be reported in mass media (despite the nearly 12 million people employed by manufacturing), what’s a small manufacturer to do?
Look overseas, of course, according to Slate magazine. After all, about 60 percent of the $1.6 trillion worth of stuff the U.S. makes each year is exported, according to the National Association of Manufacturers. Getting smaller companies to look to overseas markets is tough, but that must happen to reach President Barack Obama’s stated goal of doubling exports in five years.
The online magazine reported that one small company, Baltimore-based Marlin Steel Wire Products, increased its exports from around 10 percent to more than 17 percent of its orders. By 2014, it expects to export half of its production.
The factory makes baskets to hold delicate aircraft engine parts and pharmaceutical beakers that go through washers before being put together and packed. It also designs custom shapes and specifications for assembly lines run by Boeing and Toyota. The company’s president says “Made in the U.S.A.” still has cachet overseas, and he realizes that 95 percent of the world’s consumers are not American.
As a bonus, Slate reported, manufacturing heavyweights like Ford and GE have shifted some production back to the U.S. from overseas.
Ergo and your teeth
Ergonomics could be coming to a dentist near you
The high prevalence of neck and back pain among working dentists and dental hygienists has led the dean of the University of Maryland Dental School, Christian S. Stohler, to require all incoming students to take “Ergonomics in Dentistry” before practicing simulations or live-patient dental work. The school wants dentists and dental hygienists to learn ergonomically correct practices.
Three out of every five dentists live with the pain from years of practicing with poor posture, according to Lance Rucker, director of clinical ergonomics and simulation at the University of British Columbia.
Stohler recruited Rucker to kick off its course with a lecture and workshops. Studies over nearly four decades have pointed out that dentists need to adopt more ergonomically correct equipment and positioning, Rucker said. He said that two-thirds of dentists lose days of practice each year due to avoidable muscular skeletal pain.
Director of NBA referees
THE TASK AT HAND: Ron Johnson’s IE career has taken him from Baghdad to basketball. In 2006, Johnson gave a speech at the NBA rookie camp about values, met NBA commissioner David Stern and returned to the U.S. Army. Johnson later retired as a two-star general after 32 years on active duty. A 2008 call from Stern led to the appointment of Johnson, a West Point graduate who holds a master’s degree from Georgia Tech’s School of Industrial and Systems Engineering, as the NBA’s senior vice president of referee operations.
He oversees all officiating, including the NBA, the WNBA and the developmental league. He is responsible for the entire life cycle management of the program, from recruiting, training, developing, measuring and making sure that the NBA’s standards of integrity and performance are met on a daily basis. Every night after every game, NBA personnel examine and grade every call every referee makes. The information goes into a database to be used for performance improvement.
EVER THE IE: Johnson’s skills come into play when reviewing such performance data. “My mission is to deliver a perfectly officiated game, miss no calls, get them all right,” Johnson said. "That’s very hard to do. And as a former general officer it kind of rubs me a little bit and makes me uncomfortable to know that I have a mission that is almost impossible to accomplish. But I’m a faithful guy, and I know we’re going to have one of those games, and I hope soon.”
So when a coach who lost texts Johnson to say that the refereeing was great, he wants to take that phone and bronze it.
Johnson wants to increase the use of simulation to train referees. Although refs do a lot of video work, Johnson envisions the day when they put on goggles and have situations thrown at them like in the military, which uses such simulation to teach soldiers when to shoot and when to hold fire. One author wrote that it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert, which equates to 64 years of game time for referees. Johnson thinks that simulation training could have referees operating at their peak in nine years. “The fact of the matter is you can’t do this enough,” he said.
Georgia Tech offers graduate program in supply chain engineering
Georgia Tech’s H. Milton Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineering is offering a new, one-year graduate program in supply chain engineering that will equip young professionals with problem-solving skills necessary to tackle the complexities of global supply chains.
The program is a new model in education designed to meet the needs and demands of the industry while producing high-caliber graduates in a short period of time, according to Georgia Tech officials. The program came about after discussions with industry professionals and students about what they expect from such a program. The differences lie in smaller class sizes, intensive industry interactions and team-based projects to instill the knowledge and experience needed by 21st century supply chain professionals.
The curriculum is built on a foundation in analytical methods, which then are applied in hands-on, learning by doing supply chain courses. The result will be engineers who can design, maintain, improve and synchronize highly complex global supply chains.
UPS again backs Virginia Tech IEs
For the 15th straight year, UPS has awarded an academic grant to Virginia Tech’s Grado Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering.
The $40,000 grant for 2011 will support doctoral students in the department’s human factors engineering/ergonomics graduate program.
“The primary use of the money is for support of doctoral students who are undertaking practical, applied research in ergonomics, safety and human factors engineering,” said John Casali, the John Grado Professor of Industrial and Systems Engineering.
Casali made his first proposal for the UPS grant in 1995 and since has served as the foundation’s coordinator at Virginia Tech. UPS has awarded about $750,000 under this particular grant to the engineering college, funding more than three dozen doctoral degree students.
Book of the Month
Baby boomer brain drain
How to transfer work force knowledge between generations
Businesses have been aware for years that as massive numbers of baby boomers leave the work force, the institutional knowledge and skills acquired through decades will leave as well.
Ken Ball and Gina Gotsill recognize that losing this critical knowledge could devastate organizations and businesses. Their book, Surviving the Baby Boomer Exodus: Capturing Knowledge for Gen X and Y Employees, gives leaders practical ways to analyze their work force, what impact retirements will have on their operations, and how to create a plan to retain, transfer and retrieve that knowledge.
Ball, a boomer, and Gotsill, a Gen X-er, use templates, checklists and case studies to show how to design a knowledge transfer program, create a pilot, implement solutions and evaluate its effectiveness. Their array of techniques to help leaders stem the loss of intellectual capital includes mentoring, communities of practice and social networks.
The authors define the types of knowledge that baby boomers possess – explicit, implicit, tacit, procedural, political and cultural – the barriers to documenting and transferring that knowledge, and how to overcome those barriers and nurture a knowledge culture. Leaders who successfully adopt these techniques will have made a solid investment in the future.
Surviving the Baby Boomer Exodus: Capturing Knowledge for Gen X and Y Employees is published by Cengage Learning ($24.99).
Click and learn
“Everyone learns differently. Some learn watching stuff. Some learn by listening. Some learn by reading. I try to mix it all into every class.”
- Northwestern University industrial engineering professor Bill White, quoted in The New York Times on Nov. 15, 2010. White and colleagues at Northwestern and other universities assign hand-held “clickers” to students to record attendance, give multiple-choice tests and interact with students in class.
High-tech medicine can cut costs
The University of Texas Medical Branch of the Association of American Medical Colleges estimates that widespread implementation of telemedicine could save the U.S. health system more than $4 billion each year while improving outcomes for millions of patients.