Assessing Hand Tools

Hand tools are typically designed to simplify tasks for the worker. Whether they decrease the force it takes to tighten a bolt, or if they allow you to measure the temperature of a hot surface without getting close to it. The end goal is still the same – to increase productivity while improving safety. However, some tool designs are not optimal, potentially contributing to worker injuries rather than alleviating them.

The term 'ergonomic' has been used widely in the hand tool industry to describe various features and in an attempt to attract buyers. Unfortunately, there is currently no regulation as to what can, or cannot be labelled as 'ergonomic'. As a result, employers should do their research to thoroughly assess the tools to determine whether they would provide an ergonomic benefit to the task(s) they will be used to accomplish.

Ergonomically speaking, the ideal tool minimizes force, enables neutral postures, and minimizes repetition and/or duration.

Where to Start?

First, analyze the task for which you are purchasing or designing hand tools. What are the circumstances in which the tools will be used? If the work space is small and cramped, a large tool will not be a feasible option. Who are the workers that will be using the tool? If the task is common to all workers, then perhaps an anthropometrics study should be performed to determine the appropriate range of tool sizes to accommodate as many workers as possible. The more you know about the task, the higher the odds that you will get the correct tool for the job.

Considerations for Tool Use

  • If the tool requires repetitive movements with force, consider using a power tool to increase productivity and decrease risk of overexertion (i.e. using a powered hand drill instead of a manual screwdriver)
  • Use angled tools instead of bending the wrist for hard to reach areas
  • Reposition yourself or the task item instead of bending and twisting your neck/wrist/elbow/shoulder
  • Heavy tools should be counterbalanced
  • Look for tools that have padded grips: these help to minimize vibration (if any), and reduce the contact stress from holding the tool for too long
  • Ensure the tool selected is the appropriate tool for the task – do not use scissors to hammer a nail!


Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS). (2016). Hand Tool Ergonomics - Tool Design. Retrieved from

National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). (2004). Easy Ergonomics: A Guide to Selecting Non-Powered Hand Tools.

© Copyright 2024 - PROergonomics