Down To Wire

It’s better to be safe than sorry when it comes to ergonomics, especially when confined industrial wiring causes lots of twists and turns of the wrists and hands. Choosing the right tools can be the difference between a safe maintenance associate, and a sidelined one.

  • According to OSHA, there are many potential hazards that come along with using hand tools for electrical installation and connections. The most common mistakes include:
  • Using tools with short handles, which may damage tendons and nerves by compressing unprotected areas of the palms and fingers.
  • Using tools that are too large for the hand, which may result in fatigue of the hand and forearm.
  • Using screwdrivers for highly repetitive tightening or loosening tasks, which may irritate the elbow tendons and their attachments, leading to inflammation and epicondylitis (tennis or golfer’s elbow).
  • Wearing gloves that are too large or too thick, which may restrict movement of the hands, leading to muscle fatigue and over-exertion. Conversely, gloves that are too tight may also restrict movement and blood flow.

Beyond these basic concerns, there are application-specific considerations, such as the tight tolerances of an industrial environment. “Ergonomic designs incorporated into the tools used for crimp terminals are very important,” says Matt Willard, product manager, application tooling for Thomas & Betts. “Often, terminations made in this environment are made in tightly confined spaces, such as the inside of a panel, or within the body of machine tool. This can lead to poor positioning of the hands and undue stress on the user. In these cases, a tool developed to require minimal hand force can serve to help prevent injury.”

In addition, says OSHA, it’s important to select tools with handles that are properly sized and shaped for the specific user. Also: “Use spring-loaded pliers, snips, and crimpers for tasks that must be done frequently,” says OSHA. But be careful—spring force should be just enough to open the tool. Excessive spring force will increase the grip force needed to use the tool. These types of features that regulate crimp force will ensure better quality workmanship as well, ensuring the proper amount of handle force is applied to each and every termination, says Willard. “This feature not only prevents the user from over-crimping, which can also lead to injury, but helps ensure a good quality crimp is made,” he explains, “which can lead to reduced maintenance and downtime in the future.”

The other option, when confronted with repetitive tasks, is to ditch the hand tools altogether and utilize powered or ratcheting tools. Even so, says OSHA, users need to ensure that powered tools have variable speed, torque limiters, or stop bars to prevent over-tightening and wrenching of employee’s hands.

Besides the hand, finger, and wrist issues, it’s important to remain aware of the typical daily ergonomic hazards that come with frequent bending of the knees and neck. Employees should be reminded to take breaks and avoid repetition when it comes to the types of maintenance tasks that require these potentially taxing movements of the body.

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