March 2018 Newsletter:

“Handy” Tips for Hand Tool Use

A screwdriver is a screwdriver is a screwdriver… right? Ergonomics is about fitting the work to the worker, but if you are using the wrong tool for the job, you are attempting to fit the worker to the work, potentially placing the worker at increased risk for injury.

Evaluating Grips and Forces

Understanding whether the task requires precision and accuracy, or simply brute force and power, can help with tool selection. In instances of precision and accuracy, a pinch grip (i.e. holding between thumb and forefinger) can afford the worker the proper control. However, when accuracy is not as essential as force, a power grip (i.e. all fingers wrap around the tool) is ideal as it generates greater force by recruiting larger muscles.

Another factor to consider is handle contouring. A well contoured and high friction grip can make force applications easier; reducing grip forces by increasing friction. A poorly contoured grip, however; can lead to contact stress and hand postures to grip the tool.

Ensuring Proper Postures

Many tools on the market have different handle angles, sizes and shapes that can have a significant impact on posture. Depending on how the tool is used in the task, a handle that is angled (i.e. 45 or 90 degrees) or is longer can be helpful in improving postures by allowing the upper limb or wrist to be more relaxed (i.e. maintain a straight rather than bent wrist or reduce reaching to access a work area).

Selecting the Right Tool

When you are initially selecting a tool for a job or task, it’s best to consider a few basic questions:

1. Is this tool made for this purpose?

Every tool has been designed and developed for an intended purpose or specific use; for example, a flat head screwdriver loosens or tightens screws, but should not chisel. Ensure the tool properly fits the requirements of the job.

2. Are there any unique features I should be looking for?

Factors to consider are wide ranging but could include: tool length, RPM, handle angle, contouring, and handle size/diameter. This is the biggest opportunity for ergonomic improvements on a job; a tool with the right parameters improves postures, forces and/or reduces repetition.

3. Is this tool conducive to the work environment?

The selected tool should allow you to work both efficiently and safely, regardless of any space limitations; for example, when working on a sink beneath cabinets, select a pipe wrench length that allows for ease rotations without added strain.

All that said, selecting and providing the proper tool is only half the battle. Ensuring workers are using it in the most efficient and safe manner is also imperative. It’s recommended that you take the time to provide work method training for your staff to ensure they understand how to use these tools to reduce strain the body.

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