Grower 101: Workstations --Designed for Efficiency

January 22, 2004 - 13:04

A good workstation setup is the answer to a professional working environment.

Workstations are used for seeding, transplanting, potting,
taking cuttings and preparing plants or vegetables for shipping. For the most
part, these are areas where employees do repetitive tasks. Having everything
needed within arm's reach and providing a comfortable environment are key to
good workstation design.

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

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

Workstation Height

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

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

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

Providing a dry floor around where workers stand is also
important. 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-inch
radius to the side and front for women and 27 inches for men. The best work
area is within 16-18 inches of the resting elbow position.

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

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

Work Space

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

Adequate lighting over the work area will increase
efficiency and reduce eyestrain. Lighting fixtures should be located above the
workstation so as to not create shadows. A level of 40-60 foot-candles is
necessary. Energy-efficient, cool-white fluorescent bulbs give good light
distribution and reduce electricity usage.

Location of Materials

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

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

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

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

Transplanting Conveyor

The transplanting conveyor, manufactured by several
equipment companies, is an alternative to building your own workstations. The
concept is adapted from assembly operations in electronics and appliance
industries. A slow-speed conveyor belt moves the predibbled flats or pots past
workers who place the plugs or cuttings. The transplanters stand or sit next to
the conveyor with the plugs located within arm's reach. A variable speed motor
on the conveyor adjusts the speed from 5 to 50 feet per minute to adapt to the
type of container, the number of transplants and the experience of the workers.

Transplant conveyors are available in lengths to accommodate
4-12 transplanters. Wheels can be provided for portability. A counter can be
added to track the number of containers completed.

Providing good workstations for your workers can increase
production considerably. It can also reduce costs, as there is less movement of

About The Author

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

Leave A Comment

  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

More information about formatting options

By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.