Ergonomic safety has had a profound impact on the utility industry over the last decade, without many workers even knowing it. Yet as professional tool ergonomists, we have seen many erroneous “ergonomic” product claims over the years, so in this article we want to highlight the importance of knowing how ergonomic products are measured and if the tools you’re using are truly advancing ergonomics at your company.
Before we dive into the technical aspects of ergonomic measurements, let’s review some background information. OSHA continues to define line work as a high-risk occupation in terms of the risks of electrocution, falls and human error, but also in terms of risks for musculoskeletal disorders and ergonomic injuries. The agency has gone so far as to say that one in three injuries is an ergonomic injury. Examples of these injuries include carpal tunnel syndrome, rotator cuff tendinitis, elbow epicondylitis (tennis elbow) and trigger finger tendinitis.
These injuries translate into an incredible number of dollars spent by employers. According to the 2017 Liberty Mutual Workplace Safety Index, U.S. businesses spend more than a billion dollars a week on serious, nonfatal workplace injuries. Of the billion dollars a week, over 20 percent of the injuries – which account for nearly $14 billion a year – are directly attributed to overexertion involving outside sources.
Objectively Measuring Ergonomics
Based on the information presented above, it’s clear that quality workplace ergonomics are good for both employee health and an employer’s bottom line. But while almost every tool manufacturer talks about ergonomics, are their claims about ergonomics true or just a marketing stunt? It’s important to understand how a company tests their products prior to purchasing them. The truth is that some tool manufacturers have not measured ergonomics at all, some outsource the measurement process and some do partial measurements but don’t perform the complete process. At Milwaukee Tool, not only do we conduct measurements in-house, but we also have teams of subject matter experts who implement ergonomic designs into the tools utilities use every day.
Objectively measuring ergonomics is a very precise task. Some ergonomic risk factors to look for in your tools are high levels of noise, vibration and required force. While some exposure to these risk factors isn’t necessarily hazardous, exposure to high thresholds of these categories puts workers at serious risk for eardrum damage, vibration-induced white fingers, trigger finger tendinitis and carpal tunnel syndrome, among others.