MRO Magazine

Reducing Injury Rates With Ergonomic Hand Tools

Ergonomic tools are still relatively new to industry, although since 1995 they have received broad attention. But buyers beware. There are a lot of unsubstantiated ergonomic tools on the market that claim benefits to end-users but are just merely...


November 1, 2004
By Rob Rozzi

Ergonomic tools are still relatively new to industry, although since 1995 they have received broad attention. But buyers beware. There are a lot of unsubstantiated ergonomic tools on the market that claim benefits to end-users but are just merely all show and no go.

Before selecting your next hand tool, take the time to learn about the manufacturers’ claim to the benefits and demand to see proof, in writing if necessary.

While any tool can carry an ergonomic label, tools that undergo a specialized ergonomic design process take into consideration CTDs (Cumulative Trauma Disorders) and RSIs (Repetitive Strain Injuries). The design process requires the tool to be thoroughly researched and tested in order to validate the real benefit they provide to the user.

True ergonomic design results are quantified. Some manufacturers use the term ergonomic to imply quality. The product may be dressed in a nice package and labelled ergonomic, even though the tool does nothing to remedy RSIs. For instance, cushioned grips on hand tools are commonly perceived as being ergonomic, even though the designers cite no research explaining how the padding protects the hand.

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If you’re purchasing a substantial number of tools for your workers, you can save literally thousands of dollars in health claims by buying a quality, truly ergonomic product. The OSHA (Occupational Safety & Health Administration) in the U.S. believes that companies who comply with ergonomic programs will reduce the number of repetitive motion and back injury claims by 250,000 annually.

Most important, true ergonomic hand tool manufacturers use professional workers to test prototypes. Researchers evaluate the subject by electromyography to gauge muscle tension and a goniometer to track the user’s hands.

Prototypes are revised and tested again by more users to refine function and comfort. Pilot production tools are evaluated once again before the tool enters the market.

Most genuine ergonomic tools feature rounded areas and protective shields that reduce the risk of immediate direct injuries, such as cuts and bruises. For example, properly designed pliers should have no unnecessary sharp edges, even around the jaws.

Ergonomic tools also should minimize the cumulative wear and tear on skin that leads to abrasions, blisters and calluses. For instance, screwdrivers that have a hard core should be surrounded with a soft thermoplastic gripping surface to protect skin and preserve the grip. The soft gripping surface improves traction and prevents rubbing.

Safe design should also ensure that tools don’t pinch or snag hands between closing parts. Ergonomic slip-joint pliers, for example, have handles that remain open even when the jaws are fully shut to keep from pinching palms.

Ask to see research, design protocols and field tests that support ergonomic claims. It may take a while to verify a hand tool’s ergonomic claims. However, it is definitely worth your time — especially for managers who have hundreds of workers using these tools daily for extended periods of time.

You also can survey your own employees for feedback. This step is also worth your time and effort because you’ll see clear differences in the response. Sample tools should always be trial-tested in actual work conditions by everyday users to see if the tools prove to be truly ergonomic.

Remember, don’t be fooled by products that just look good but have no real ergonomic validation. Always try to evaluate the actual improvements that the ergonomic tools provide — the real differences they make to the user.

Rob Rozzi is with Bahco North America Inc. The bandsaw blade manufacturer was the first tool maker in the world to institute a truly scientific approach to hand tool development. For more information, visit www.bahco.com/us.

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ERGONOMIC ADVANCEMENTS

Documented research and disciplined ergonomic design have led to many advances in worker comfort, safety and productivity. Yet the field is still improving. A few truly ergonomic developments include:

Adjustable springs in wire cutters and pliers minimize resistance in the handles at the moment wires are cut.

Anti-friction coatings on handsaws help cut wood with approximately 40% less force than is required with uncoated saws.

V-shaped handle transitions on ergonomic screwdrivers facilitate intricate product repair using the fingertips.

Thick, wide handles on adjustable wrenches enable users to apply two to three times the torque available from conventional wrenches and without pain.

Slip-joint pliers with handles that stay open even when the jaws are fully shut protect against pinching the user’s palms.

Files with symmetric handles that have large, rounded ends minimize gripping forces, so that workers don’t tire easily.

Handles feature a slip-guard to prevent accidental skin abrasions.