How to Choose and Use Hand and Power Tools to Reduce Risk of Injury

Industrial Ergonomics: Prevent Injury from Hand and Power Tool Use

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It has been said that there is a tool for every job. Using the right tool is important. For example, the longest tool is best for leverage, which spares the need for excessive physical force. Use a vise or clamp to grip or stabilize an object instead of holding it with your hand. Tilt an object to avoid bending the wrist. Use a cart to carry heavy loads. Think creatively to modify the task to make the job less stressful physically.
Carpenter working with circular sawThe National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health provides many helpful guidelines for hand tool use.

  • Keep the wrists straight. Avoid bending or rotating the wrists.
    Solution: Bend the tool, not the wrist. Many types of bent-handle tools are available. The 'handshake' is a neutral wrist position.
  • Avoid standing still in one place when using a heavy tool.
    Solution: Reduce the size and weight of the tool. To help avoid neck strain, keep the elbows low and slightly bent when using heavy tools.
  • Avoid stressing soft tissues such as the palms of the hands or fingers. Tools that create pressure on the base of the palm can interrupt circulation and nerve function.
    Solution: Look for well-designed tools with finger grooves that fit the worker's hand. Short-handled tools may be less stressful to soft tissues.
  • Avoid tools that require a lot of grip force to use or to hold.
    Solution: Certain tools are made with a compressible gripping surface. This is usually better than hard plastic.
  • Avoid tools requiring finger grip.
    Solution: Select tools that use a full-hand power grip.
  • Avoid tools with sharp edges and pinch points.
    Solution: Select tools that will not cut or pinch the hands or fingers, even when gloves are worn.
  • Avoid tools that require trigger-finger action to operate.
    Solution: Select tools with large switches that enable the tool to be operated using all four fingers.
  • Keeps hands free from heat and cold. Excessive temperatures can affect manual dexterity.
    Solution: If possible, change the work location and/or wear gloves.
  • Avoid excessive vibration. Excessive vibration can have an adverse affect on circulation.
    Solution: Select tools with features that control or limit the transmission of vibration to the extremities and whole body.
  • Wear gloves that fit. Tight-fitting gloves can put pressure on the hands. Loose-fitting gloves reduce grip strength. In general, gloves affect dexterity and the ability to grip.
    Solution: Provide a selection of gloves of different sizes.

Safely Operating Tools that Cause Extremity and Whole-Body Vibration
Certain power tools vibrate or transmit vibration into the operator's arm and hand (or leg and foot). Continued use may cause a condition called white finger (Raynaud's Phenomenon) to develop. The symptoms include aching in the wrists and muscles of the forearm, tingling sensations, numbness, and whiteness in the fingers caused by restricted circulation. In fact, vibration from percussive tools (e.g. riveting tools), grinders, pneumatic hammers and drills, and chain saws can affect the whole body.

The following suggestions are provided to help you reduce the risk of work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WMSDs) from these types of tools.

  • Choose power tools with that offer anti-vibration controls and/or handles coated with a material that suppresses vibration.
  • Properly maintain power tools; make sure tools are kept balanced, clean, and lubricated.
  • Wear gloves designed to absorb or decrease vibration.
  • Assign more than one employee to the job that requires the operation of equipment or a tool that vibrates.

It could be said that the power to avoid a work-related musculoskeletal disorder is in your hands! Whether you use a hand or power tool to accomplish a task, remember that your whole body is involved. Your posture and body mechanics, along with tool choice and how it is used plays an important role in avoiding injury.


Updated on: 09/19/17
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Industrial Ergonomics: Prevent Injury from Hand and Power Tool Use
Todd J. Albert, MD
This article provides excellent insight for both workers and employers regarding the relationship of certain hand tools to the creation/exacerbation of back pain complaints. Particularly helpful are the tips for decreasing risk with hand/power tools. The relationship between vibration and disc degeneration has been well delineated, and these articles emphasize that risk. I congratulate the authors for their insights and recommendations.
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Industrial Ergonomics: Prevent Injury from Hand and Power Tool Use

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