Chapter Corner

Powering Tool Safety

Posted in: Features, September/October 2018

In recent years, the total number and rate of work-related Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSD) or ergonomic injuries in construction have increased significantly.1 With an increase of 12%, this data highlights the need for both employers and employees to focus more of their attention to ergonomic safety. According to the Center for Construction Research and Training, there is a 19% employment increase for electricians projected through 2024. Why is this significant? It equals more than 81,000 new opportunities to improve safety right at the beginning of these apprentices’ careers.
 
Ergonomic injuries are among the most common and costly type of reoccurring injury, potentially creating lifelong issues for workers. Research suggests shoulder and arm injuries are among the top five body parts affected by work-related MSDs in construction over the last five years of data. These injuries can include carpal tunnel syndrome, trigger finger tendinitis, rotator cuff tendinitis, lower back injuries, knee bursitis, and elbow epicondylitis. 
 
Understanding the most common injuries is the first step to finding solutions to reduce the risk and improve safety for tool users. The seriousness of the science of ergonomics is showcased when manufacturers bring all that work in-house and have teams of health and safety professionals intimately involved with the tool development process.
 
For example, Milwaukee Tool has always paid a high level of attention to safety and has continuously found ways to add more detailed objective data to enhance its safety program. As research developed ways to measure factors affecting sprains, strains, and repetitive motion injuries, the company added an ergonomic innovation known as electromyography (EMG). This type of investment works to identify and reduce injuries to help workers retire with the same strength and health as when they started their careers.
 
The EMG process uses the electrical activity produced by a person’s skeletal muscles to record muscle effort during a tool’s use. With the ability to measure up to 108 unique muscle groups throughout the body, the use of EMG technology to develop tools that reduce muscle effort and fatigue helps workers age and retire with greater strength and health.
 
The investment in EMG allows Milwaukee® to collect objective ergonomic data that can be used to positively influence product design. As part of the investment in this technology, Milwaukee created a dedicated team of industry leading subject matter experts (SME), including a certified ergonomist, sound and vibration SMEs, and other technicians to focus on tool ergonomics. The result is the ability to acquire large amounts of objective information during tool use. This sets the company apart from the many companies that continue to rely on subjective data to make ergonomic decisions.
 
Some of the key risk factors teams like this consider are high levels of noise, vibration, and required force. While exposure to these factors aren’t necessarily dangerous in and of itself, exposure to high thresholds of these categories can put contractors at risk for eardrum damage, vibration-induced white fingers, trigger finger tendinitis, and carpal tunnel syndrome, to name a few.
 
Here’s a glimpse at a few of these key risk factors and how proper, objective ergonomic measurement helps to influence the tools put in contractors’ hands:
 
Noise
At Milwaukee®, product sound power tests are conducted in one of the industry’s largest, fully isolated, Hemi-Anechoic Sound Chambers. Once assessed, the team can work to develop tools to reduce decibel output, such as the M18 FUEL™ SURGE™ Hydraulic Driver. This product reduces the dB output by 10 decibels, to 76 dB, which can operate continuously for an 8-hour day without the need for hearing protection and without the risk for acoustic trauma.
 
Vibration
Measurements of vibration are conducted using accelerometers. This type of testing was also crucial during the development of the M18 FUEL™ Surge Hydraulic Driver. This tool reduces noise exposure by 50% and records 3x less vibration. At this level, you can use this tool continuously for a full work day without the risk for eardrum damage.
 
Force
One of the most accurate ways to measure force is with a high capacity testing system. This type of equipment can measure pounds of force (lbf) upwards of 135,000 lbf. Milwaukee’s 12T crimper requires less than 8 lbs of trigger release, which is 75% less than other leading crimpers in its class.
 
Muscle Effort
Milwaukee® also tested numerous muscle groups in the hand, forearm, upper arm, and shoulder when designing the M18™ FORCE LOGIC™ 12T Utility Crimper, which ultimately requires 47% less muscle effort to use. This reduces the risk for injury and long-term health risks. The attributes that make up a 47% less muscle effort include, significant weight reduction, improved center of gravity (balance), 350-degree adjustable head rotation, and decreased trigger force.
 
On the morning of September 20th at IEC Convention & Expo 2018, Milwaukee Tool will present an  indepth review of tool safety. Attendees will have the chance to get hands-on experience with the tools the company has developed with this objective data at the center. This presentation will also include a demonstration of ergonomics in design with Milwaukee’s Advanced Ergonomics Team.
 
Changing the way companies and their employees view ergonomics injuries is an important part of a zero-injury jobsite. The key to the solution will be a thorough understanding of how the tools being used are contributing to overall employee well-being. 
 
1 Based on the last two years of data available.
 
Raffi Elchemmas, MBA, AEP, is an industry leading Ergonomist with board certification in professional ergonomics. He completed degrees in Kinesiology at Michigan State University and an MBA in Health Sector Management at DePaul University in Chicago. He has worked in the tool industry for years helping to disrupt the injury prone environment by reducing thousands of work-related ergonomic injuries and helped to quantify millions of dollars in customer savings through ergonomics.