France is implementing a new law requiring “hardship accounting,” for the purpose of giving special pension benefits to employees whose jobs impose physical, environmental and rhythm constraints beyond a given threshold in 10 categories. This is causing a dispute between employers, who balk at the detailed record keeping required, and the government, which insists that a duly voted law must be obeyed. What I find disturbing in this tug-of-war is that I hear no voice saying that the existence of hardship jobs is abnormal and that they should be eliminated. Giving special treatment to the holders of these jobs is better than nothing, but it is an immediate countermeasure, not a long-term solution.
Each employee’s hardship account is supposed to be a detailed record of time spent under the following conditions:
- Physical constraints
- Manual handling of heavy loads
- Painful positions
- Mechanical vibration transmitted to hands and arms, and to the whole body
- Aggressive environment
- Hazardous chemicals
- Hyperbaric work environment, mostly undersea
- Extreme temperatures
- Rhythms of work
- Night work under certain conditions
- Shift work, such as rotating between three 8-hour shifts or two 12-hour shifts.
- Repetitive motion of the arms at high frequency and a forced pace
The threshold for temperature, for example, is working at least 900 hrs/year under 43 ºF or above 86 ºF; for noise, it’s 600 hrs/year at an 8-hour average ≥80dB. There multiple pages of such specs. The French National Safety Research Institute (INRS) provided the following gallery of photographs to illustrate the categories:
Looking at some of these pictures, it is not difficult to imagine how the hardships could be engineered out. On others, it’s not so obvious, but finding unobvious solutions is what we have Kaizen and engineers for. For starters, I would focus on the following:
- In the repetitive motion example, the assembly station is badly designed. The parts should be fed on chutes from behind the station rather than bins in front. This would make the operator’s hand movements shorter and front to back, free the space around him, and relocate all materials handling behind the line. And this would pave the way for stepwise automation to eventually eliminate the repetitive, high-speed task.
- In materials handling a a warehouse, there are known better ways to store cases or bins than manually picking them up from a stationary pallet on the floor. Using the same concept Frank Gilbreth used to deliver brick to masons 100 years, you could move, rotate, raise and lower the pallet to bring each case right next to its storage location. You could also provide mechanical manipulators to assist the operator.
- Even in a steel mill, why does the control room have to be hot?
In Palo Alto, CA, garbage is collected in daytime, but it’s a low-density, suburban housing environment. In a dense city, you have to do it at night to avoid interfering with traffic, and it means that some people have to work awkward hours… For this, I don’t see any obvious solution.
The French word pénibilité about jobs corresponds in English to series of adjectives starting with D: Dull, Dirty, Difficult, Demanding, Demeaning, and Dangerous. Originally, there was the Japanese expression”3K,” which stood for:
- kitanai (汚い), for “dirty”
- kiken (危険), for “dangerous”, and
- kitsui (きつい ) for “demanding” or “intense”
It became “3D” in English, for “Dirty, Dangerous, and Demanding,” never mind that “3D” is already taken for “three-dimensional.” Then “3D” was used in publications to designate any combination of three of the five D-adjectives, as in Dirty, Dangerous and Demeaning, Dirty, Dangerous and Demanding or Dull, Dirty and Difficult, depending on each author’s particular take on the subject, the common thread being that these are undesirable jobs.
The key is what action you take. For Toyota, the 3K jobs are prime targets for automation, as being the sort of tasks people should not be asked to do. In the 1990s, they introduced a metric called TVAL, for “Toyota Verification of Assembly Line” described on pp. 108-111 of Lean Assembly, based on the duration of each task, the posture of the operator performing it, and the force the operator exerts. You calculate TVAL from a job design, not by tracking every individual operator all day and high TVAL ratings identify targets for improvement in the design. By contrast, the new French law seems fatalistic.