Ergonomics Saved Significant Costs at the Tacoma Dome

        by Ian Chong, CPE


Profits, productivity and morale, went up after workers installed anew method to reduce lifting tasks at this domed stadium and entertainment facility.


The Results


After a three year evaluation/comparison, the City of Tacoma reported:


•         39 fewer injury claims filed)
•         $399,825.56 savings in worker compensation funds
•         458 fewer workdays lost
•         50-60% improved worker performance
•         50-65% improved productivity
•         100% improvement in morale
•         $200,000 improvement in net profit (income revenue of Dome operations)
•         Less absenteeism
•         Injured workers recuperating
•         Corollary Savings


The Case Study


In keeping with the concept that ergonomics is as important as strategic planning, quality control and productivity, this case study will help those who still need to justify an ergonomics program or intervention in their organization.
This case study involves an organization that not only continues to benefit from a serious ergonomics program, but incorporated with a fresh management style, vast improvements in productivity, performance, attainment, morale and, consequently, earnings.


The organization is the Tacoma Dome, a major indoor domed sports facility in Washington State that holds large audiences for major sporting events (Houston Rockets, Seattle SuperSonics) rock concerts (Elton John) shows (Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey) and a host of other attractions.


The Tacoma Dome obtains major talent to maintain its stream of operating income. The Dome also has strict limitations. The organization can only book a certain number of shows / events given the number of hours in a year. Considerations and time must be given to changeovers (changing from one type of event to another, such as. ice hockey to basketball), set-up, pre-show time, the actual show time, audience clear, take-down and clean-up.


Deadline Pressure, Injured Workers


In past years, The Dome produced some profit but fell a long way from its potential. Bookings were limited to a specific number of shows per year due to the limited hours available. This is logical, right? You cannot possibly squeeze more shows into the set number of hours in a year. Additionally, worker injuries were becoming a major thorn in the operations side.


The importance of making a changeover efficiently, effectively, safely, and most importantly on time has the highest operations priority. The changeover must be made within the scheduled time, 8 hours, 5 hours, whatever it is. The doors must open on time for the show. The NBA fines arenas like the Dome up to six figures a minute for tardiness, due to ties with television, advertising and the like. Of course this is serious revenue.


Changeovers were being made, but right to the limit. If 8 hours were needed, it took 8 hours. If 10 hours were needed, it took 10 hours. Rarely was a methods improvement made, nor was one even suggested. "This is the way we do it, and this is the way we've always done it", was the usual response.


Meanwhile workers were being injured. Mistakes occurred. Workers continued to work while still injured or not fully recuperated. Performance lagged. Morale was down. It appeared as if management cared less and less. After all, the crucial changeovers were made on time, and that's what management cared about—not worker injuries. But the changeovers were moving closer and closer to the opening bell. So shouldn't we just allow more time for changeovers, even though it affects the number of bookings we can have in a year? Never mind the lost revenue.


And the injuries kept rising. In the Risk Management Department, Ms. Diana Stewart, Worker s' Compensation Manager, kept an eye on the rising costs of workers' compensation. Higher rates, higher lost time costs, higher medical costs and higher reserves needed. Stewart had seen this kind of thing before: a lot of injuries in a labor intensive environment pushing ice hockey, basketball and rock concert floors, bleachers and heavy equipment around, all by muscle power.


Stewart was aware that maybe the application of ergonomics could help her reduce the worker compensation funds she was responsible for. Although an expert on worker compensation issues, she did not then realize the full benefit of ergonomics on the operations side, that this would positively affect the operations budget.


At this point, Stewart hired Ergonomics Inc. to study the problem. Our Project Manager, Patrick Hauge, spent many hours analyzing the injuries, tying them to a causal relationship to the tasks they performed (heavy lifting, hauling, pushing, pulling) and developed a work plan.


New Management Enthusiasm


About the same time, Dome management changed and a dynamic new director arrived, John Croley. His philosophy of running and operating the Dome was similar to Ergonomic Inc.'s approach. He sought worker input. He really observed what the workers do when they work. He asked them questions. Most of all, he wanted to do something that would help them do their jobs faster, safer, and better.


Croley worked as janitor, ticket taker, and changeover technician during his college days for tuition money. He knows Dome operations in and out. He has performed them all and exudes enthusiasm for them when they are done well. Both from a management perspective and a worker perspective, he can talk turkey about any job in the Dome with anyone. He has gained respect from the workers.


Hauge, the ergonomist has the same philosophy. He spent hours observing the changeovers, lifting the heavy basketball floors and understanding how specific motions caused the shoulder and arm injuries. He spent many a late night watching the hockey rink being disassembled and understanding how hand and wrist injuries occurred when this task was performed.
Like Croley, Hauge and Stewart sought worker input. "Why did this happen?" "What caused that?"


The Intervention & Soluton


Hauge observed, filmed, taped, photographed and most of all analyzed. He determined the best way to reduce or eliminate injury was to stop the lifting of all the heavy stuff, but this was easier said than done. He thought of a way to use existing equipment in a different manner, (minimizing expenditure), using the floor jacks, the forklifts and the stacking dollies so that all lifting could be eliminated.


Hauge devised an elaborate "drill" or method for the team of workers who were lifting the basketball floors to execute. A remarkable distinction from the previous method of just getting a grip on each section, and hunkering it up onto a forklift. The "drill" utilized two forklifts in tandem with two different crews on a single basketball floor section line. Hauge got input from workers on his idea and even got a few of them to try it. He captured the trial on film and timed the operation.


Quickly and enthusiastically he went to Croley and Stewart to present his findings and conclusions. He determined with his new method of changeover he could not only reduce back, shoulder and arm injuries by eliminating 90% of heavy lifting tasks, but could shorten changeover time significantly.
Croley and Stewart gave him the green light for a full changeover trial. Hauge implemented the technique on one of the major changeovers. It was a disaster. Nothing worked.


Back to the old method. Naturally there were some snickers by some nay sayers. However, with Croley's vision and enthusiasm, some of the workers were beginning to see past the faults. They were beginning to see that they could actually benefit from the young ergonomist's efforts. One pulled Hauge aside and said "You know, if we had a tool that would separate the floor sections more efficiently, I bet this system of yours would work." What kind of tool? Hauge asked. A worker named John Harvey said "Lets make one in the shop".


At the next changeover they tried the new tool. It worked like a charm. Changeover time was cut from 8 hours to 5 hours. The new tool is called the Harvey Bar after its inventor. This changeover was performed quicker, more efficiently, with better quality and safer than any in recent history—a major success.


The Results


After a three year evaluation/comparison, the City of Tacoma reported:
•         39 Injury reductions (claims filed)
•         $399,825.56 savings in worker compensation funds
•         458 fewer workdays lost
•         50-60% improved worker performance
•         50-65% improved productivity
•         100% improvement in morale
•         $200,000 improvement in net profit (income revenue of Dome operations)
•         Less absenteeism
•         Injured workers recuperating
•         Corollary savings


The combination of management style and appropriate applications of ergonomics principles make this story a success. Croley still manages by relating to the workers on their level. Stewart still looks for proactive solutions to injury prevention. She feels workers can benefit from a more secure job and better health—ultimately so will the City of Tacoma.