Prevent workplace injury with hand tool ergonomics

Work-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSD) are the most common occupational health hazard in America today, according to Charles Jeffress, assistant secretary for occupational safety and health at the U.S. Department of Labor.

Data regarding these afflictions shows that nearly two million workers suffer from work-related MSDs every year, with about 600,000 losing valuable work​ time because of it.

“Although the median number of lost workdays associated with these incidents is seven days, the most severe injuries can put people out of work for months and even permanently disable them,” Jefress said. “In addition, $1 of every $3 spent on workers’ compensation stems from insufficient ergonomic protection. The direct costs attributable to MSDs are $15 to $20 billion per year, with total annual costs reaching $45 to $54 billion.”

As these numbers illustrate, whether due to lost worker productivity or workers compensation claims, work-related MSDs are a costly problem for businesses in Arizona and throughout the U.S. Fortunately, ergonomic protection can go a long way toward preventing such occurrences.

Ergonomics and tools
The benefits of ergonomics most often are associated with office environments, covering everything from proper posture at desks to how employees should type on keyboards. However, ergonomics also can be invaluable when it comes to the use of tools.

How a tool is designed, including its weight and shape, can impact dramatically its effects on users. For this reason employers may want to put a bigger focus on the types of hand tools their workers use.

Making better use of ergonomic hand tools doesn’t necessarily mean purchasing tools that are designed with ergonomics in mind, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).

“Some tools are advertised as ‘ergonomic’ or are designed with ergonomic features,” NIOSH states. “A tool becomes ‘ergonomic’ only when it fits the task you are performing, and it fits your hand without causing awkward postures, harmful contact pressures or other safety and health risks. If you use a tool that does not fit your hand or use the tool in a way it was not intended, you might develop an injury, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis or muscle strain.”

Factors to consider
There are numerous factors to consider when looking to promote more ergonomic hand tool use. These include:

  • Grip: Larger handles on tools like hammers, screwdrivers, wrenches and chisels allow for fingers to wrap around the tools more comfortably for a stronger grip. This can prevent slippage and reduce stress on hands, fingers and wrists.
  • Material: Tools that have handles covered in soft materials are more preferable than harder ones. This can make using the tool more comfortable, especially if it’s intended to be used for an extended period of time. Additionally, it can make gaining a firmer grip easier. Tools that feature handles covered in hard materials can be converted with the use of a sleeve.
  • Trigger: When using power tools that feature triggers, constantly moving an index finger can result in tendonitis. Therefore, power tools with longer triggers that allow for the use of more than one finger to activate them might be a better option for improving comfort and reducing the chance for injury.
  • Vibration: How much a power tool shakes during use also may contribute to the risk of MSDs. Proper power tool selection is the best way to reduce excessive vibration.
  • Weight: The heavier a tool, the more likely it is to put strain on hands, wrists and fingers. Employers might want to keep this in mind when choosing different tools, as one made from a lighter-weight material could greatly benefit workers.
  • Shape: How a tool is designed can play a major role in its ease of use. Businesses may want to consider exactly how certain tools will be used and let this be a guide when choosing from different shapes. For instance, tools used for jobs featuring small components will likely need to be able to fit into tight spaces without discomfort on the part of the user.

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