Industrial Ergonomics: Prevent Injury from Hand and Power Tool Use

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What is Industrial Ergonomics?
Industrial ergonomics is a branch of the science of ergonomics; adapting job tasks to human ability. Ergonomic specialists analyze information about people, job tasks, equipment, and workplace design to help employers provide a safe and productive environment for their employees. Industrial ergonomics applies to work settings such as those found in manufacturing, engineering, and construction. Research studies show that workers who are taught how to safely perform their jobs in a suitable environment are at reduced risk for work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WMSDs).
Worker with hand drill installing glass windowsHow Do Hand Tools Cause Back Pain?
Some types of industrial work involve the use of hand and power tools. At first you may think that hand and power tool use only involves the fingers, hands, and arms. This is not always true. Tool use often demands total body involvement. For example, tool use may require standing or sitting in one position (static posture) for extended time periods, repetitious movements, or excessive force. Stationary postures or excessive movement of any type can stress the spine and, depending on the body action needed to use the tool, can cause neck and back problems.

There are hundreds of different types of tools. Tools vary by shape, size, weight, and power source. Some tools are simple to use and others are complicated to operate. A side effect from the use of certain power tools is vibration, which can affect the entire body and cause neck and back pain, numbness, tingling, aching, stiffness, headache, or blurred vision.

Besides the effects from vibration, tool use can cause other types of musculoskeletal problems. Sometimes the symptoms of a WMSD develop gradually and may initially present as muscle fatigue or pain that disappears with rest. Symptoms may become severe with prolonged or repeated use of a tool. The worker may find their symptoms are no longer relieved by rest and may begin to interfere with the ability to use the tool.

Points to Help You Prevent Injury: Posture and Body Mechanics
Did you know that by making a few adjustments in the way you stand or sit can help prevent or reduce back and neck pain? If you learn how to keep the spine in a neutral position, you can minimize harmful stress that could lead to back and neck pain. Listed are a few suggestions to consider:

Become aware of your posture. Good posture maintains the natural curve of the spine and includes: relaxed shoulders that are held slightly back and level, ears in line with the shoulders, chin tucked slightly inward, and pelvis shifted forward to allow the hips to align with the ankles.

  • Avoid twisting and bending motions. These types of movements can exert excessive pressure on the spine's discs.
  • Position your work directly in front of your body and close enough to avoid excessive reaching.
  • Keep the upper arms close to your body with the elbows slightly bent.
  • Use both hands instead of one to lift or complete tasks.
  • Avoid extreme or awkward positions.
  • Respect your discomfort or pain. Change positions, stretch to ease stiff muscles, take a short break, or change tasks.

Standing or sitting in the same position (static) for an extended period of time is a common cause of back, neck, and leg pain. Static posture often stresses the spine and causes muscle fatigue and pain. Tasks that require standing can be made more comfortable by installing anti-fatigue mats. The best advice is to periodically move around. A few minutes of walking or stretching will increase circulation and help you to feel better and be more productive.

Updated on: 09/19/17
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How to Choose and Use Hand and Power Tools to Reduce Risk of Injury
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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How to Choose and Use Hand and Power Tools to Reduce Risk of Injury

Proper tools along with posture and body mechanics can help reduce the risk for injury.
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