Why Should Electrical Contractors Care about Tool Ergonomics

Walk down the aisles of Home Depot, or another major power tool distributor, and you’ll probably see the word “ergonomic” claimed as a feature on the packaging of many tools. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find a tool on store shelves that doesn’t promote some sort of ergonomic benefit. But what does that word really mean to contractors and the companies they work for? What’s the difference between a claim of ergonomics andactual, proven muscle effort reductions?

These are key questions to ask. After all, the longevity of electrical contractors and overall company costs is at stake. Musculoskeletal injuries and disorders (MSD) are common and costly type of injuries, creating possible lifelong issues for the worker and affecting safety records for employers. Research suggests a correlation exists between tool usage and the most common types of MSD cases, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, trigger finger tendonitis, rotator cuff tendonitis, lower back injuries, knee bursitis, and elbow epicondylitis.

The truth is that while almost every tool manufacturer talks about ergonomics most have not measured ergonomics at all. Some outsource the measurement process and cannot validate the results, and some only do partial measurements. Manufacturers who understand the seriousness of ergonomic science bring all of that work in-house and make their team of ergonomics professionals a crucial part of the tool development process.

Embracing Ergonomic Technology

Milwaukee Tool has always paid a high level of attention to safety and have continuously looked for ways to add more detailed objective data to enhance their safety program. As research developed ways to measure factors affecting sprains, strains, and repetitive motion injuries, the company added an ergonomic innovationknow as electromyography (EMG).

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 efforts 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.

Key Risk Factors

Some of the key risk factors teams like this look into 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 tendonitis, 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 Tool, product sound power tests are conducted in one of the industry’s largest, fully isolated, Hemi-Anechoic Sound Chambers. Once assessed, their 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 aforementioned 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 of 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 recently launched 12T crimper requires less than 8 pounds of trigger release, which is 75% less than other leading crimpers in its class.

Muscle Effort
  • Milwaukee also tested the 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.
 
Develop a Safety-Focused Business

So where do contractors go from here? For any companies that focus primarily on price point, opting for less expensive tools may solve a short-term need, but a safety-focused company’s primary goal should be buying tools that keep workers safe and healthy.
 
In addition, workers are demanding attention to their ergonomic health and want objective data to back up the claims of ergonomic tool manufacturers. Forward-thinking manufacturers have made improving ergonomics a priority and a part of their company DNA. Through a complete in-house process that works hand-in-hand with their product design teams, these manufacturers are making the jobsite safer for employees.
 
As companies continue to investigate the impact ergonomics has on their experienced modification rates (EMR), they will identify that tool users who are working with improved ergonomics tools are less likely to develop the same rate of injury as those who are using poorly designed tools or hand tools. This accounts for decreased OSHA recordable claims for MSDs, consistently improved EMRs, and lower insurance premiums, thus allowing contractors to bid more competitively.