Shoulder Demand in Commercial Airplane Assembly

The assembly of an airplane requires construction and handling of many different types of materials. This includes tasks such as electrical wire installation, drilling and fastening structures together, interiors installation, and many more. As a result, employees are expected to perform large ranges of shoulder motion while completing highly skilled installation processes. Drilling tasks have emerged as a top issue in managing long term shoulder health. Mechanics drill consecutive holes in lines along the structures of the plane. In order to drill through the material, they have to apply force behind the drill while absorbing vibration. Additionally, the positions of holes require the employees to drill overhead, on the ground, and maximally reach away from their trunk. Combining these requirements with high repetition may exceed some employee's natural abilities.

One way to approach this issue is to address the work package that the employees perform. In most cases, there are opportunities to mitigate shoulder injury risk factors within one installation process. This can include manipulating the space and accessibility to the work which allows employees to utilize lower risk positions. For example, moving the package up or down the line can improve the accessibility of the work. In other cases tools can be improved to make them lighter and better match the context to the human. Many jobs require customized tool designs which give ergonomists the ability to influence their usability during the design phases. Another way to address the work package is to improve the methods of lifting and moving materials. For example, offering mechanical lifts can eliminate heavy or repetitive lifting and better utilize employee's upper extremity skills.

Another way to manage our employee's shoulder health is to use preventative measures such as warming-up, stretching, and myofascial release. Some installation processes require large ranges of shoulder motion for long periods of time. Employees that are required to drill in high risk positions may be able to reduce their risk of injury by participating in this technique.

Further research is needed to fully understand the mechanisms that cause shoulder injuries at The Boeing Company.