Safeguarding and improving the health and safety of our employees is a priority for Gildan and an integral part of our operations. As repetitive movements are an inherent part of the sewing process and can cause discomfort and possibly injury, Gildan has implemented measures to improve ergonomic practices at all its facilities with a view toward preventing workplace injuries.
In the textile and sewing industry, it is known that the main risk of developing musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) arises from cumulative exposure to subtle hazards, including repetitive movements, incorrect postures and vibrations that are commonly associated with MSDs. Compared to other industries, the occurrence of other types of acute injuries, illnesses and fatal accidents is very low in this industry. Aside from the hazards related to the work environment, it is important to take into consideration that there are other non-occupational components (general health, non-work leisure, play and physical daily living activities) that also contribute to the development and incidence of MSDs.
At the end of 2008, Gildan initiated discussions with the Ergonomic Center of North Carolina (ECNC) to partner in the development and implementation of a three-to-five-year best-in-class Ergonomics Program. We selected the ECNC for its leading reputation in ergonomic practices and for its rigourous standards and extensive experience with large companies operating in the apparel industry. The mandate of the program was to identify and troubleshoot ergonomic risks.
Developing the Gildan Ergonomics Program
A senior ergonomist from the Center has been allocated to Gildan to further develop our Ergonomics Program. As part of his initial assessment in Honduras, in May 2009, the ergonomist conducted a study in which he interviewed management and workers, toured four facilities, and reviewed the details of Gildan’s Ergonomics Program, including all medical data maintained by the Company.
The study performed by the ECNC thoroughly evaluated targeted jobs and the processes that are considered to pose a high risk to Gildan employees. The Center drafted specific recommendations which address hazards that are commonly associated with MSDs. Recommendations have been implemented and are encompassed in Gildan’s Ergonomics Program.
Based on the Ergonomic Culture Maturity Model (ECMM), which rates competency in ergonomic practices, the ECNC program provides a roadmap to help companies progress up the ladder from the “Fire-fighting” level to “World-class” status within three to five years.
Summary of Elements of ECMM and Levels
EIGHT ELEMENTS OF THE ECMM LEVELS OF IMPLEMENTATION
- Injury Management
- Education and Training
- Program Compliance & Audit
- Management Leadership
- Employee Involvement and Accountability
- Plant Ergonomics Team
- Risk Assessment and Hazard Control
- Prioritization and Analysis
- Level 1: Fire-fighting
- Level 2: Reactive
- Level 3: Compliance
- Level 4: Preventive
- Level 5: World-class
The matrix used by the ECNC includes the following key elements:
- Employee Involvement and Accountability to establish guidelines and implement a safety disciplinary policy which includes expectations regarding behaviours and participation
- Management Leadership to ensure resource availability and program measurement
- Injury Management to identify employees with early symptoms and to better track injury trends in order to identify root causes and mitigate risks
- Education and Training to support ergonomics awareness and specific training for employees at high risk
- Program, Compliance and Audit to implement all program components and audit performance
- Plant Ergonomics Team to establish multidisciplinary teams to manage the program
- Risk Assessment and Hazard Control to apply controls to identified risks
- Prioritization and Analysis to react effectively to incidents
By the end of 2012, all facilities in Honduras had reached Level 3 – Compliance, except for two facilities. One textile facility only reached 90% of level 3 because it needs to strengthen its consistency regarding committee meetings and adherence to the training program. Our newest textile facility in Honduras, which started the Ergonomics Program this year, reached 75% of level 3.
When Level 5 - World-class of the program is implemented, it will signify that we have systems in place to efficiently identify root causes of injury based on symptoms and pathology. On a practical level, it will mean that Gildan is equipped to initiate actionable items to control hazards and mitigate risk to our employees.
We have also begun to introduce this Ergonomics Program at our other Company owned facilities. This process will be completed in three to five years.
All facilities in Central America now have a functional Ergonomics Committee, which is responsible for risk analysis and implementing processes to reduce the potential for employee injury.
Sewing facilities in Nicaragua are moving forward in the implementation of the Ergonomics Program, having reached Level 3 - Compliance, in 2012. Improvements in production and office workstations have been done, as well as in medical prevention on work-related injuries.
In the Dominican Republic, we have reached Level 2 – Reactive, and we are working on reaching the next level in 2013. We have established the Ergonomics Committee as well as exercises in both our sewing facilities. During 2012, we provided training to all employees on our ergonomics program and policy. The policy was posted in different places within the facilities.
In 2013, we will also commence implementing the program at our recently acquired integrated facility in Bangladesh.
Gildan’s Schools for back health: a first in Honduras
In March of 2012, as part of its ongoing implementation of a world-class Ergonomics Program and its commitment towards its employees’ health, Gildan inaugurated three Schools for back health. These schools were developed based on a program created by the Honduran Social Security Institute’s Regional Rehabilitation Centre. Sixteen doctors and 24 nurses from Gildan’s medical team were certified as instructors to provide theoretical and practical sessions to employees. These sessions aim at educating employees on how to take care of their health in order to prevent back pain and improve their overall quality of life. They also include exercises which contribute to reducing pain, preventing relapses and reducing work-related medical leaves.
One of the three Schools for back health is located at our second hosiery facility (Rio Nance 4) in Choloma and will service employees at our entire Rio Nance manufacturing complex. The second school is located at Gildan’s largest sewing facility in San Miguel, and the third school is located at our Villanueva sewing facility. Based on the success of the first three schools, Gildan is evaluating the possibility of opening additional schools at other Company locations.
Employees who will participate in this program, which includes a series of 10 training sessions, will be selected by our doctors through a medical screening process.
Gildan is the first company in Honduras to implement such a program.
As of September 2012, 112 employees have participated in the 15 sessions offered by the schools.
Working toward improved ergonomics for our employees: Quick Facts about our achievements in Honduras
- As mentioned previously, in 2012, Gildan reached Level 3 – Compliance for all facilities except two. We expect to achieve the next level, Preventive, by 2013, followed by the World-class level by 2014.
- A team of more than 20 employees composed of EHS Managers, Chiefs, Officers and Coordinators for both the textile and sewing operations is dedicated to raising the Company’s Ergonomics Program to the highest standard.
- In Honduras alone, Gildan has 16 doctors and 28 nurses on staff ready to meet the health needs of our employees.
- Each facility has a Health and Safety Committee and an Ergonomics Committee, composed of approximately seven employees from various positions and departments.
- All Ergonomics Committee members are trained in MSD identification; prioritization of ergonomic stressors; root cause determination; risk analysis techniques; development of control measures; and design criteria. In addition, they interact directly with production employees to identify risks, receive feedback and implement ergonomics controls.
- In total, Gildan and the ECNC have trained approximately 90 staff experts in ergonomics in Honduras and in Nicaragua who in turn lead the implementation of the Ergonomics Program at each facility.
- To sustain the full functioning of the Program at each facility, more than 11,000 employees have been trained in ergonomics during 2012. This training includes topics such as postures; types of injuries; early symptom indicators; medical intervention; and preventive measures related to work and everyday activities.
- Ergonomics is also included as part of the induction process undertaken by all new employees.
Ergonomics Day in Honduras
In 2012, Gildan held its First Ergonomics Day in Honduras at its San Miguel sewing facility and at its two hosiery facilities. The Human Resources, Environment, Health and Safety and Medical departments worked together in order to develop activities which aimed at raising awareness on the benefits of ergonomics.
The Gildan commitment to excellence in ergonomics
As part of the initial review conducted by the ECNC in 2009 with respect to Gildan’s ergonomics practices, the ECNC’s Senior Ergonomist highlighted the following evidence of Gildan’s commitment toward achieving a culture of excellence in ergonomics:
- Tremendous executive leadership support for creating a “peerless” Ergonomics Program
- Cross-functional ergonomics teams have been formed at the plants with the purpose of identifying potential hazards and applying controls to mitigate ergonomics risks
- Strong medical presence in the plant provides a mechanism for reporting discomfort and potential injuries, as well as following up on and monitoring symptoms proactively
- Employees have an opportunity to voice concerns about their work areas
- Training of new hires includes awareness training on body mechanics
- Awareness posters reminding employees of potential job hazards
- In addition to two standard 15-minute rest breaks, employees have two mandatory breaks per day dedicated to exercises designed to help them develop better postures and practice muscle relaxation
First Anthropometric Study in Central America
Gildan is developing the first anthropometric characterization in the Central American region together with the Physiology Department of the Faculty of Medical Sciences of the National University of Honduras (UNAH). This kind of study, widely used in developed countries, will provide measurements and proportions of the human body of the Honduran population. This study, the first in the region, will allow Gildan and the industry in Central America to work in the future with industrial manufacturers so that machines and workstations can be designed according to the measurements of the population.
Anthropometry is an important element of ergonomics since, from the beginning, it allows the workstation to adapt to more accurate measurements of the population.