Helping a Textile Company Elevate Safety
Many members of the workforce at the Elevate Textiles Plant 21 — a Gastonia, N.C.-based distribution center — have been with the company for decades. The work at Plant 21 can be physically demanding. Safe ergonomic performance is a big focus for the company as it strives to keep its employees injury-free.
“Our associates are the key to our success as a company, and their experience and dedication provide us with a critical competitive advantage,” said Scott Garrett, the safety coordinator for the Gastonia facility.
Elevate Textiles has long had a robust safety program and focus on preventing injuries and accidents. When three of their employees suffered back injuries in one month in 2019, it spurred the company to re-evaluate Plant 21’s specific situation and research what additional solutions could augment their approach and reduce worker injuries.
Their research led them to Modjoul.
“We met (Modjoul COO and Co-Founder) Jen Thorson at a trade show and thought they could help us avoid those types of injuries,” said Michael Scott, Elevate’s Director of Health & Safety.
Modjoul has years of experience making distribution and warehouse environments safer and more efficient. While Modjoul’s turnkey solutions are easily integrated, every company and workforce is a little different and Modjoul tailors its solutions to address each distribution or warehouse facility’s unique challenges.
Data Analysis = Improvements That Scale
In Elevate Textiles’ case, the company was reeling from three back injuries in a short time period. Elevate and Modjoul started with a small pilot, equipping some of the company’s workers with SmartBelt safety wearables. “We were new to all this technology,” Scott said. “It took about three months to get our feet wet, and then after that we (scaled up).”
Today, Plant 21’s workers are all equipped with SmartBelts. At every step, as Elevate scaled up its deployment of SmartBelts, the Modjoul data analytics team was immersed in the numbers, evaluating the ergonomic performance of the SmartBelt wearers and providing insights that helped the company to further improve safety and reduce the risk of injuries.
Associates at Plant 21 perform a variety of repetitive, physical movements that are common in distribution facilities, from pulling boxes and inventory on and off conveyor belts, to building pallets, to unloading trucks. These positions are called pullers and expediters — and they are both the heart and the muscle of the operation.
The boxes they lift, pull, and stack can weight between 5 and 85 pounds. Proper mechanics and ongoing measuring and training are essential to keep this workforce injury-free.
Modjoul’s system was a perfect fit for this environment.
“When we first started with Modjoul, we had one guy in particular who was doing a lot of deep bending and the Modjoul data identified it,” Garrett said. “So as we started to evaluate what was driving all of his deep bends, we saw that he was picking boxes up straight from floor to put on the conveyor. That led us to provide a buggy that elevated the boxes at his station and that significantly reduced his deep bends.
“With the data we were seeing, we were able to find opportunities to reduce risk and help our people.”
The data also pointed to high counts of deep, “risky bends” at Plant 21’s packing stations. Riskybends are defined as bends from the waist of 60 degrees or more. Bending even a little while lifting or holding no additional weight puts strain on the lower back. The deepest, riskiest bends of 60 degrees or more can result in hundreds of pounds of force pulling on the muscles and ligaments in the lower back. Additional minor changes were made to work areas to reduce those movements.
“Those small adjustments made a big difference,” Garrett said.
Indeed, 14 months after integrating Modjoul’s SmartBelt into the operation, associates at Elevate Plant 21 had eliminated 73 percent of movements categorized as risky bends. In addition, Plant 21 associates reduced extreme twists by 55 percent.
Most importantly, the plant reduced its overall frequency of injuries by 85 percent year-over-year after partnering with Modjoul.
And, after three significant back injuries in the span of one month prior to implementing Modjoul’s solutions, there have been no back injuries at Plant 21 in the three years since.
Employee Engagement & Buy-In Critical To Success
The story of Plant 21’s success is not one just about data. It is a story about people and about a team coming together to address a challenge and build a safer workplace for every employee.
In Plant 21’s case, this included managers who regularly used the data provided by Modjoul’s system to constantly evaluate and provide additional training. In one case, they used video to provide additional guidance and instruction for workers most at-risk of injury.
“We started out with data and coaching with that employee, then we went to the video so he could see himself, and then it clicked for him,” Garrett said.
While Modjoul can help point the way, that level of concern for a worker’s safety and wellbeing is more cultural than procedural.
“Most of our folks bought into it immediately,” Garrett said. “We explained what the belt was and what it was going to measure. A couple said they didn’t want to be tracked, but I told them I wasn’t tracking them, I wanted them to know how they were bending and twisting. Because the day you retire, I don’t want you to not be able to play with your grandchildren.
“Now it’s a part of their PPE (personal protective equipment) daily. I’ve even had several folks come up to me and thank me for providing them with a SmartBelt.”
The Modjoul SmartBelt is fully integrated into Plant 21’s safety and training process today. New employees are equipped with a SmartBelt when they start and are trained accordingly.
“This is fully a part of our process now,” Garrett said. “New people come in and they get the belts and get trained.”
Elevate Textiles is now beginning the process of integrating Modjoul into a second facility in North Carolina.
“One of the things Modjoul brought to the table in addition to the tool, was they were very engaging with us,” Scott said. “They gave us a lot of meeting time to discuss the data and outcomes. That’s a real key to the success of this process: engagement with us on an ongoing basis.”