‘The right tool for the job’ is more than just a cliche

The war rages on about ergonomics. The available science, costs and responsibility for musculoskeletal injuries seems to be the focus. However, in the wake of the battle, solutions offered to increase the compatibility between the work environment and the worker have resulted in better comfort for the worker and greater productivity. Tools are a perfect example. Those recommended for reducing musculoskeletal injuries appeal to one’s common sense and provide additional benefits.

To understand why an effort to address ergonomics can offer a greater payback, simply look at the key exposure factors. Safety experts associate a musculoskeletal injury with awkward positioning or postures, repetition and force. An excess of any one factor or a combination of factors may lead to an injury. They certainly make work more difficult. Usually, the “time on task” increases. By relying more heavily on tools and selecting those that address these factors, safety, comfort and production increase.

Turning attention to awkward postures first, one can imagine all the jobs that call for odd twists of all or part of the body. These jobs need to be reviewed to identify tools that can be used to change the worker’s position. Even the position needed to take material from the truck to begin work needs to be considered. Whether climbing in the truck or reaching over the sides, the body is in a bad position. It is much more efficient and safer to use a rollout truck bed deck that allows easy access to the contents of a truck bed.

For overhead work, the reach must be addressed. An aerial lift can reduce the need to reach and one with a boom may be just right to place the worker in proper alignment with the job at hand. Ladders and stools allow workers to get closer to their work and keep hands and arms closer to the body.

To control awkward positioning of the wrists or arms, look at the hand and power tools used. A pistol-grip power tool is designed for horizontally oriented work. An inline tool is for vertical tasks. Selecting a hand tool is consistent with this. Manufacturers have recognized the need to provide bent handles to maximize leverage and reduce the need to bend the wrists.

There are two types of forces to review. Certain jobs require a kinetic force or moving force. Examples are lifting a small spool of wire or pulling wire. The other is a static force, such as the pressure used to hold a tool or an object in one place.

Lifting or activities associated with using the back tend to be greatest problem area. Equipment and tools are a must to reduce injures and increase productivity. Forklifts enable workers to lift large loads. Consider the portable version of the forklift, a material lift, to help at the job site. Use ramps or vehicle lifts to get heavy materials from a truck.

Other devices can be used to reduce the force needed to accomplish smaller tasks. Hydraulic tools reduce the hand power needed for cutting, wire-stripping and crimping operations. Mechanical conduit benders allow the machine to do the work. If a mechanical bender is prohibitive for one reason or another, be selective when choosing a manual bender. Newer manual conduit benders are lighter, less expensive and more portable. Employees should be instructed to let the tool do the work. Mechanical wire pullers are also a wise choice. They save time and money.

Static forces that an electrician may encounter include extended periods kneeling to reach work, the stress of the tool belt or gripping a tool such as a wire stripper. The use of kneepads can ease the stress on knees and allow workers to kneel for longer periods of time. Padded tool handles on cutting/stripping tools ease the stress placed on hands and reduces slipping. WAGO connectors enable wire to be pushed into the holes of these connectors, require no tools, save time and reduce wrist strain. Padded tool belts reduce contact stress on the hips and distribute the weight of tools. Suspenders shift some of the weight to the shoulders.

The last of the key factors surrounding ergonomics and productivity is repetition. Tasks, which require the same motion over and over again, must be made more efficient and less tedious to the worker. Battery-powered tools offer an excellent solution. For example, cable cutters and crimpers powered by a battery offer a lightweight solution to reducing this repetitive strain placed on the worker. Again, production increases and injury is avoided. EC

O’CONNOR is with Intec, a safety consulting, training and publishing firm that offers on-site assistance and produces manuals, training videos and software for contractors. Based in Waverly, Pa., he can be reached at 607.624.7159 or joconnor@intecweb.com.