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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 2, Issue 4 (August 1, 1927)

The Conquest Of Fatigue. — (By E. J. B.)

page 34

The Conquest Of Fatigue.
(By E. J. B.)

There is a constantly expanding body of opinion amongst industrialists that a closer study of working conditions in all their aspects is one sure way by which production may be improved. The following article deals concisely with one phase, “Fatigue,” and shows how, under certain circumstances, work may be made easier and at the same time more effective by the scientific application of motion and the interposition of rest periods.

Two centuries ago, a famous poet told us that “The proper study of mankind is Man.” The wisdom of those words is continually being borne in upon us.

If Pope, the author of the epigram quoted, could revisit the haunts of modern men-especially of modern scientific men-he assuredly would not be disappointed with the vast accumulation of knowledge concerning man-his origin, nature, and potentialities-which the united researches of sages since the dark days of the eighteenth century have gathered.

The increasing extent to which the application of new knowledge is serving to enrich the life of man, is a matter of the utmost interest to us all; it strengthens alike the belief that science is the greatest instrument of material progress in the world to-day, and the expectation that through its beneficent dispensations the life of every man woman and child a hundred years hence, will be as far in advance of ours, as ours is in advance of the dismal life of Pope's day-a life without railways, steamships, wireless, and the other marvels of electricity.

It is for the purpose of drawing attention to what we owe to science, especially to the splendid achievements of our psychologists and physiologists in determining the nature and cause of fatigue (and of pointing out the road of escape from its serious industrial consequences), that this article is written.

The influence of the fatigue factor on the problem of production has occupied, in our Dominion, but a small place in the discussions and plans of which so much has been heard during the past year or two-for the better productivity of the country. Yet, actually, the country is losing thousands of units of possible production, and, likewise, thousands of pounds in actual cash, every day, in its primary and secondary industries, because we have not organised them in a thoroughly scientific manner. Sufficient wealth to pay our National Debt is lying in our own primary and industrial production back gardens, so to speak, if the fullest use of the scientific method of extracting that wealth were but made!

How few employers, alas, study, in a scientific way, the human problem of their organisation; yet, without the human equation, there can be no industry and no profits for them! How many ask themselves the questions: “Am I overworking my men?”. “Do long hours fatigue them and lessen their efficiency and production?”. “Would it increase production and the success of the business, improve the men's health and peace of mind, if I worked them shorter hours and abolished all overtime?”. “What number of hours constitutes the ideal working day?”, and similar questions. I venture to feel that very few employers ask themselves any such questions.

The significance of this subject in Britain was first made strikingly manifest in the early days of the Great War. It will be remembered that when the German armies were “hacking their way through moral and international law to the realisation of their aim,” a grave position was created for Britain because the supply of shells was insufficient to meet the urgent demands of Britain's armies on the Western Front. In order to increase the supply of shells, and thus assist our soldiers to repel the invading hosts, the traditional methods were at first employed; speeding up the old machines (and those who worked them), and the working of long hours of overtime. With the thought of saving their brothers in France upmost in their minds, the munition-workers toiled heroically day and night. Nobody shirked, but the supply of shells did not increase; it fell! Here was a problem of major importance for the nation. To its enduring credit the Government of the day rose to the great occasion with a drastic decision in regard to the munition-workers-a decision which had an almost instantaneous effect on the supply of shells-and, incidentally, on the ultimate triumph of the allied armies in the war. What did the Government do? It simply abolished all overtime in the munition works!

What, therefore, is this fatigue which acts as ash in the vital fires of the human machine, rendering it so seriously inefficient, however page 35 much it be urged to efficient operation? Fatigue is a condition of enervation resulting from the disintegration of bodily tissues (a physiological phenomenon which accompanies all work, be it physical or mental), and the accumulation, in consequence, of toxins (poisons) in the blood stream of the individual. It is really a state of auto-intoxication, the nerves and muscles being saturated with the products of their own decomposition.

Nature has provided the only possible remedy for the restoration of the normal function of the body in such cases, and that is—periods of absolute rest to enable the blood stream to remove the toxins. Moreover, it is known that when the body is already fatigued, further expenditure of physical or mental energy increases the mischief of poisons referred to, so that longer periods of rest are required for the removal of the toxins.

Handling suburban traffic in New Zealand.

Handling suburban traffic in New Zealand.

How many workers in the various industries commence their day's work with the toxins of the previous day still in their blood? To what extent does fatigue affect efficiency, production, the amount of spoilt work, and the employee's liability to accident? These are interesting and important questions which are agitating the minds of many citizens desirous of seeing the Dominion's production higher and her wealth greater.

Since the war, particularly in Britain and America, research into the problems of fatigue and industrial technique has gone on unabated, with the result that man-hour productivity (with the introduction of new methods) has risen tremendously. In America alone some 30,000 men and women in 500 research laboratories are investigating these important problems of industry, constantly making valuable discoveries, and giving hints and suggestions for the betterment of production.

What are our industrial businesses doing in a like direction?

The new railway workshops scheme, which embodies the latest ideas, is admittedly a move in the right direction. But “one swallow does not make a summer.” The whole country requires to be scientifically organised for the tasks of this post-war world.

By way of illustrating the immediate practical benefits of the application of science to industry the following cases, which are quoted from “Mind and Work” by Myers, are highly instructive:-

1. In the case of men engaged in the heavy work of sizing fuses, which is dependent solely on their own efforts, and independent of machinery, the hours actually worked were reduced from 58.2 hours to 50.6 hours per week. The total output was increased by 21 per cent.

2. A still more striking case is that of men who were loading “pigs” of iron into railway trucks. This is extremely heavy work, and it was found, by experiment, that the men should not be under load for more than 43 per cent. of the day. Accordingly, they were set to work for seven minutes, and, after each such period, were given a rest of ten minutes, whereupon, despite the fact that they spent more than half their time chatting and smoking, they each lifted 47 1/2 tons per day, instead of the 12 1/2 tons handled under the old system. This represents a 300 per cent. increase in output, with the result that wages were higher by 60 per cent. and there was a 66 per cent. reduction in the costs.

Another striking case of increased output following the elimination of fatigue is given by Mrs. S. A. Clark and Miss E. Wyatt in their study “Making Both Ends Meet,” and concerns women workers in a bleachery. The employees were allowed two periods of rest (each of three-quarters of an hour) besides their lunch-time rest of three-quarters of an hour. The output was increased by approximately 60 per cent. thereby, and the girls earned, in consequence, about 50 per cent. more wages.

The case of the bricklayers who, with the guidance of intelligent methods of manipulation of the trowel and arrangement of the bricks, etc., laid an average of 350 bricks, per man per hour, instead of the 120 bricks per man per hour under the old system, is too well known to require further mention.

page 36

The literature of this fascinating subject is full of similar examples of the outstanding advantages which follow the adoption of the new ideas in the management of industry. (See illustrations Nos. 1 and 2 which give a vivid idea of the common sense superiority of the new methods over the old.)

In industry the human problem-the rock on which great hopes are ultimately wrecked or otherwise-is, as a result of the labours of our psychologists, physiologists, and industrial technicians, more hopeful of solution to-day than ever before. This presages a brighter future alike for the worker and for industrial production.

But there must be no parleying with science in the matter, either by the worker or by the employer. If the old methods should go, let them go. Progress demands it. In Britain, under the Presidency of the Rt. Hon. the Earl of Balfour, the National Institute of Industrial Psychology is investigating such industrial problems as the effect on production of the selection and training of workers, motion study, the effect of periodical rests during the day; questions of lighting, temperature, ventilation, seating of the worker, methods of payment, and so forth. The knowledge thus gained is being incorporated into the management policies of many of Britain's big industries with results of far-reaching benefit to the nation at large.

Let us, in this Dominion, benefit likewise by the widest application to our primary and secondary industries, of the progressive methods of modern science, which, as “a cloud by day, a pillar of fire by night” cannot fail to guide us along the road to greater production and greater wealth.

Movements? Entailed In Loading 16 Boxes On To A “Move-Truck.”

Fig. I. Old Method

Fig. I.
Old Method

Ingenious Automatic Machines.

All over Britain, automatic machines are installed at the larger stations for the sale of platform tickets, costing one penny each and giving admittacne to closed platforms. Across the Channel, some of the leading railways have in use an ingenious machine which not only issues tickets, but also prints them at the same time. A list of fares is displayed alongside. The passenger places the requisite number of coins in the slot provided, turns a handle, and receives his ticket printed with the name of the destination station, the fare and the date of issue. Each ticket is also numbered consecutively: to add to the wonders of the machine, there is attached a device which totals up the day's receipts and thus provides a complete check on the cash in hand.

Fig. II New Method, after elimination of wasteful movements.

Fig. II
New Method, after elimination of wasteful movements.