Wednesday, September 17, 2008

How to Choose and Use Ergonomic Hand Tools

Selecting the right ergonomic tool for you ...

"Drop into any hardware store or home improvement center, and you're likely to find aisles full of tools labeled "ergonomic." But what exactly does that mean for workers or consumers?

“Ergonomically enhanced tools can include helpful features like angled handles, padded handgrips and non-slip coatings,” says Paul Holstein, COO of “However, no matter how impressive a tool’s design is, it’s almost impossible for it to be universally ergonomic since human physiques and project applications vary greatly from one to the next.”

And, he adds, “Whether you’re shopping for ergonomic tools or just trying to select the right one for the job from an existing collection, the key things to consider are whether or not the tool fits your hand, how well it suits the job being done, and whether or not it eases your work and prevents you from straining in ways that could lead to injury.”

To make the decision process a little easier, Holstein offers these guidelines for choosing the right ergonomic hand tool for your body type and the job at hand:

* Because finger size and placement differs from person to person, avoid using tools whose handles have built-in finger grooves. When fingers don’t naturally align with grooves, excessive pressure from the raised groove edges can cause discomfort and injury.
* Choose tools with handles that are covered in a soft material, like foam or flexible plastic. Cushioned handles not only are comfortable for long hours of use, but they provide a much firmer grip and cut down on slippage. Hard-handled tools can be quickly and inexpensively converted by just adding a sleeve.
* Ensure tool handles are free from sharp edges and seams that might irritate or cut the hands.
* When selecting double-handed gripping and cutting tools, opt for ones with spring-loaded handles that automatically will return to the open position.
* If you need to forcefully pinch or grip an object for an extended amount of time, prevent muscle strain by switching from standard pliers to a clamp or grip.
* Only use tools that allow you to work with your wrist in a straight position.
* For tasks that require force, such as torquing screws and nuts, hammering and heavy chiseling, choose single-handle tools with handle diameters that range from 1¼ inches to 2 inches. Larger handles allow fingers to wrap comfortably around the tool in a power grip, which prevents slippage and reduces stress and impact on hands, fingers and wrists.
* For tasks that call for more precision and delicacy (like fine chiseling and driving miniature screws), opt for single-handle tools whose grips fall within the ¼ inch to ½ inch range. The smaller diameter handles make it easy to comfortably grip tools between the fingertips without overexerting fingers, knuckle joints or hand muscles.
* Just as grip diameter affects work with single-handle tools, the grip span of pliers, snips, cable cutters and other double-handled tools can either make your job easier or cause you hand fatigue. For maximum comfort and efficiency for tasks that require more force, like gripping with large pliers, cutting wires or snipping through sheet metal, choose tools with a maximum “open” grip span of 3½ inches and a “closed” grip span no less than 2 inches across."    (Continued via Occupational Hazards, Sandy Smith)    [Ergonomics Resources]

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