Grower 101: Workstations –Designed for Efficiency By John Bartok Jr.

Workstations are used for seeding, transplanting, potting,taking cuttings and preparing plants or vegetables for shipping. For the mostpart, these are areas where employees do repetitive tasks. Having everythingneeded within arm’s reach and providing a comfortable environment are key togood workstation design.

A good place to start is to look at your existing workareas. Do employees do a lot of bending, stooping, lifting or carrying? Besidestaking considerable time, this leads to mental and physical fatigue. I havebeen in greenhouses where employees are stooping to do seeding on a pallet onthe floor, bending all day to stick cuttings in a bed or walking on the edge ofgrowing benches to tend overhead hanging baskets.

In a good workstation, the materials are brought to theworker rather than the worker walking or moving to where the materials arelocated or to be placed. Walking 10 feet to pick up a flat to bring it to thetransplanting table costs about $0.02 at today’s labor rate. Multiply this manytimes over during the day, and it can add considerably to the cost of thefinished plants.

Workstation Height

The top of the flat or pot should be about two inches belowthe normal elbow position. This is a comfortable position for normal movementand reaching. As all workers are not the same height, some way of adjusting tothe height of the worker or the height of the bench should be provided. Asimple way is to provide platforms for shorter workers to stand on or to add aspacer below the container for taller employees.

A better but more expensive method is to provide a manual ormotorized adjustable scissors lift table.

Although a static position is desirable, employees need tobe able to move to keep muscles loose and blood circulating. Some growersprovide stools to sit on. Anti-fatigue mats to stand on will improvecirculation in the legs and feet. A foot rail can also be installed to allowworkers to reposition one foot off the ground.

Providing a dry floor around where workers stand is alsoimportant. I have seen transplanters standing in 2 inches of water.

Hand and Arm Motion

Reducing hand and arm motion will speed up the work process.The reach from the normal armrest position should be limited to a 24-inchradius to the side and front for women and 27 inches for men. The best workarea is within 16-18 inches of the resting elbow position.

Tasks that can be accomplished with two hands will increaseproduction about 25 percent over one hand movement. Hand motions should beopposite and symmetrical. The distance that both hands have to travel should beabout the same. Start and stop movements require more energy and time.

Tasks that are usually performed at a workstation arerepetitive, tedious and time consuming. It is important to rotate youremployees between jobs to reduce the incidence of carpal tunnel syndrome andother repetitive-motion injuries. Medical treatment, worker compensation andlost production can be very expensive. Train your employees to recognize thesigns and symptoms of cumulative trauma disorders and report them immediately.

Work Space

For most tasks, a workspace at the workstation should beabout 3 x 4 feet. The distance between stations will depend on the amount ofç materials stored next to the worker. Space should be available for theworker to stretch, as frequent stretch breaks are important to reduce fatigueand restore energy.

Adequate lighting over the work area will increaseefficiency and reduce eyestrain. Lighting fixtures should be located above theworkstation so as to not create shadows. A level of 40-60 foot-candles isnecessary. Energy-efficient, cool-white fluorescent bulbs give good lightdistribution and reduce electricity usage.

Location of Materials

The materials and tools that are needed at the workstationwill determine the amount of space and physical arrangement that should beprovided. For example, if you are transplanting into flats, having room for apallet of filled flats on the left side of the work area and a cart for theplanted flats on the right will keep movement to a minimum. It also limits theamount of lifting that has to be done. Other materials needed to complete thetask — plugs, dibbler and tags — should be located conveniently in front ofyou on the worktable.

A better setup is to have a double conveyor system in frontof you at the workstation with a roller conveyor that supplies the prefilledflats and a belt conveyor below it at table height so that the planted flatscan be carried to an accumulation station. This arrangement works well forlarger operations with several transplanters and additional employees to supplythe prefilled flats and move the transplanted flats to the greenhouses.

Installing a rack that tips the plug flat toward thetransplanter can reduce the reaching distance as much as 10 inches. Plugsshould be dislodged to affect easier removal. Locating the dibble board closeby in a permanent holder will keep it handy.

Inexpensive brackets, fixtures, jigs, vices or supports can bebuilt to hold materials in position while they are being worked on. This freesup one hand that would normally be required for support.

Transplanting Conveyor

The transplanting conveyor, manufactured by severalequipment companies, is an alternative to building your own workstations. Theconcept is adapted from assembly operations in electronics and applianceindustries. A slow-speed conveyor belt moves the predibbled flats or pots pastworkers who place the plugs or cuttings. The transplanters stand or sit next tothe conveyor with the plugs located within arm’s reach. A variable speed motoron the conveyor adjusts the speed from 5 to 50 feet per minute to adapt to thetype of container, the number of transplants and the experience of the workers.

Transplant conveyors are available in lengths to accommodate4-12 transplanters. Wheels can be provided for portability. A counter can beadded to track the number of containers completed.

Providing good workstations for your workers can increaseproduction considerably. It can also reduce costs, as there is less movement ofemployees.

John Bartok Jr.

John Bartok Jr. is an agricultural engineer and extension professor-emeritus in the Natural Resource Management and Engineering Department at the University of Connecticut, Storrs, Conn. He may be reached at