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Solution: Ergonomic Hand Tools

Ergonomic hand tools are designed to minimize awkward and forceful hand exertions.

Description:

Ergonomic hand tools are designed to minimize awkward and forceful hand exertion.  The American Industrial Hygiene Association recommends that hand tool selection maximize performance and work quality, while minimizing physical demands placed on the worker.

Desirable hand tool features that make the tool more ergonomic:

  • Grip Material
    • non-slip, soft material 
    • a sleeve can be used to cover hard handles, but be cautious because a sleeve adds to diameter and/or grip span of the tool (see below for diameter/grip span recommendations)
    • make sure the sleeve fits snugly so that the tool doesn't slip out of the sleeve while someone is working. 
  • Handle Material
    • Lightweight material, such as titanium
    • In an impact tool, like a hammer, select a material that will transfer less recoil shock, such as titanium
  • Operating mechanism
    • Select spring-loaded handles that automatically return t an open position for pinching, gripping or cutting tools.
    • Clamps, grips, or locking pliers can be used for tasks that require continuous application of force
  • Handle diameter for single-handed tools, such as a screwdriver
    • Between 1.25 and 2 inches for power tasks (high force)
    • Between 0.25 and .5 inches for precision tasks (low force)
  • Grip span for double-handled tools, such as pliers
  • For power tasks (high force) 
  • Closed grip span at least 2.0
  • Open grip span less than 3.5
  • Spring loaded handles are preferred
  • For precision tasks (low force)
    • Closed grip span at least 1.0 
    • Open grip span less than 3.0
      spring-loaded handles are preferred
    • Handle length - longer than the worker's hand width
    • Handle shape –
      • Avoid finger grooves and sharp edges
      • Select a handle that helps to keep the wrist straight
        • For horizontal forearm motions a bend handle works well
      • For vertical movements a straight handle is usually the best choice.

 Example of a straight vs. bent handled tools:
Example of bent handled toolExample of straight handled tool
The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health website and NIOSH's Simple Solutions report both have some useful guidelines for hand tool selection that include many pictorial examples. 


Risks Addressed:

Forceful hand and wrist activities, awkward postures of the wrist and other joints have all been associated with increased risk for musculoskeletal disorders. Hand tools that require forceful gripping, bending the wrist, rapid wrist movements, and/or repeating the same wrist movement many times can cause carpel tunnel syndrome, tendinitis, muscle strain and other injuries.  Using a tool properly designed for the task that reduces or eliminates the need for awkward and forceful hand exertion can reduce the risk of injury.

Forceful hand and wrist activities, awkward postures of the wrist and other joints, and contact stress (e.g. from sharp edges) have all been associated with increased risk for musculoskeletal disorders. Hand tools that require forceful gripping, bending the wrist, rapid wrist movements, and/or repeating the same wrist movement many times can cause carpel tunnel syndrome, tendinitis, muscle strain and other injuries.  Using a tool properly designed for the task that reduces or eliminates the need for awkward and forceful hand exertion can reduce the risk of injury.


How Risks are Reduced:

Ergonomic hand tools can reduce the risk of injury by:

  1. Reducing the amount of grip force required to operate a tool and perform a particular task
  2. Making it possible to perform a task while maintaining neutral, comfortable postures of the wrist, elbow, or other joints
  3. Reducing contact stress from tools that may 'dig' into hands by eliminating sharp edges, finger grooves, or excessively short handles.

Quality of Evidence (Risk Reduction):

  • Independent published studies have found a risk reduction.
  • Manufacturers, vendors, or worksites have reported a risk reduction.
  • Safety and health experts believe there is a risk reduction.

Quality of Evidence Explanation (Risk Reduction):

Independent studies have shown an association between musculoskeletal disorders and risk factors such as forceful exertions, awkward postures, and contact stresses (e.g contact pressures are concentrated in a small area). Measures of forceful exertions, awkward postures, or contact stresses for ergonomics hand tools tend to be lower compared to the same measures for the equivalent standard versions of the same tool, according to some studies. 

Companies such as Bahco North America, Klein TOOLS, Marshalltown Company, Snap-on Inc., StanleyTM, Stiletto, and Swanstrom Tools USA claim that their ergonomic hand tools are able minimize exposure to forceful exertions, awkward postures, and contact stresses compared to standard versions of the tools.

There have not been independent published studies measuring the effect of using ergonomic hand tools on the incidence of musculoskeletal disorders. Regardless, health and safety experts are convinced that workers will be less likely to develop musculoskeletal disorders if they use ergonomic hand tools due to reduced exposure to known risk factors.


Effects on Productivity:

Using the appropriate tool with ergonomic features can improve productivity because workers may be able to complete tasks more quickly and with less mistakes. This increased productivity may be due to reduced muscle fatigue, fewer mistakes, the ability to use more powerful gripping positions, and less lost time due to worker musculoskeletal illnesses.


Quality of Evidence (Effects on Productivity):

  • Independent published studies have found an increase in productivity.
  • Manufacturers or vendors have reported an increase in productivity.
  • Safety and health experts believe there is an increase in productivity.

Quality of Evidence Explanation (Effects on Productivity):

Independent studies of hand tools have found that the interaction of the hand tool, its operators, the workplace, the work organization, and the work task also influence work efficiency and high product quality. Operator fatigue starts sooner when more strength is required for each hand tool exertion.

Manufacturers of ergonomic hand tools claim that 'workers who are more comfortable are more productive.' The manufacturers believe that their ergonomically designed hand tools will reduce discomfort in the operator.

Health and safety experts believe reducing the risk of developing musculoskeletal disorders may lead to increased productivity because:  1) workers can use tools for longer periods with fewer breaks and less fatigue, and 2) there may be a reduction in lost time injuries.


Additional Considerations:

Although it is generally a good idea to have soft handles because it reduces grip force requirements and prevents slipping, in some situations a soft handle may increase risk. In particular, if small shards of glass or metal are present in the work environment then it is possible for those shards to become lodged in the soft handle material and cut workers.

Make sure that if you add a soft sleeve to a handle that the handle diameter is still no more than 2 inches. Also make sure that the sleeve does not slip on the handle.


Contributors:

Dan Anton, PT, PhD, ATC; Zack Sinner, SPT; Neil Morris, SPT – Eastern Washington University


Hazards Addressed:


Sources:

Albers, James T., and Estill, Cheryl F.  Simple Solutions: Ergonomics for Construction Workers.  DHHS (NIOSH) Publications.  March 2007.  http://www.cdc.gov/niosh.  To view the Table of Contents for the Simple Solutions Document, please visit:  http://www.cpwr.com/simple.html.  Please send requests for copies of this publication to cdcinfo@cdc.gov, referencing document number 2007-122.

 

Availability

Bahco North America, Inc.
The U.S. Distributor is Snap-on Industrial Brands bahco.com or contact 800-446-7404 industrialbrands@snapon.com

Klein Tools
For purchasing information, visit kleintools.com or contact 847-478-0625 sales@kleintools.com

Stiletto Titanium Tools
For purchasing information, visit stiletto.com or contact 800-987-1849

Swanstrom Tools USA
For purchasing information, visit swanstromtools.com or contact 800-287-8872 sales@swanstromtools.com

Marshalltown Company
For purchasing information, visit marshalltown.com or contact 800-888-0127 customerservice@marshalltown.com

Snap-on Inc.
For purchasing information, visit snapon.com or contact 877-740-1900 order@snapon.com

Stanley Black & Decker
For purchasing information, visit Stanley Black & Decker or contact 800-262-2161

 

Return on Investment

To calculate the return on investment (ROI) for your specific application, please visit our Return on Investment Calculator. While a specific ROI example has not been developed for this particular solution, the ROI Calculator provides a useful tool and guidance on how to generate your own on investment analysis.

Reviews

Average Reader Rating: Star Rating (based on 4 reviews)

ergo hand tools

Star Rating

(Posted February 18, 2009)

Reviewer: Anonymous

Informitive

ergo hand tools

Star Rating

(Posted October 22, 2008)

Reviewer: JNBaker

Good information. As both a carpenter and now a student of occupational health and safety, I am looking for resources such as this. I agree that real life review of these tools would be very useful.

ergo hand tools

Star Rating

(Posted September 23, 2008)

Reviewer: Anonymous

informative

ergo hand tools

Star Rating

(Posted September 23, 2008)

Reviewer: Anonymous

good overall review. I would like to see more concrete follow up of what actually works in the field, and see a rating system. I\'ve seen ergonomists come up with some crazy ideas.

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