With frequent, often daily use of tools even the toughest hands can be affected by muscle strain or injury. This is not only painful but can lead to lost working time or, for the self employed, lost business.
Mark Haywood, Managing Director of SNA Europe (UK), the company behind the globally renowned Bahco hand tools, offers...
Useful guidance on how to protect your hands
Engineers and technologists know they need to look after their hands but that’s easier said than done when coping with the daily pressures of working life.
Every time you grip a hand tool you activate 42 different hand muscles. Over time this can cause strain, pain or numbness in parts of the hand.
Constant repetition of some actions, often unavoidable, can result in strain, even if the actions don’t feel all that strenuous when you do them.
Using hand tools which are the wrong size, so they don’t fit your hand comfortably, increases the risk of Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) or similar muscular conditions.
Medical experts say that MSDs (musculo-skeletal disorders) account for more than half of the conditions which lead to workers taking time off. Self-employed trade professionals, as well as company owners and managers, know that can often mean less money coming in.
These days everyone is carefully watching what they spend, especially when making buying decisions.
Many believe that paying more for ergonomic tools, designed to protect hands from muscle strain or injury, is a worthwhile investment.
Potential benefits from using ergonomic hand tools include:
Reduction in muscular stress within the hands;
Greater comfort from using well balanced tools;
Reduced vibration through the hands;
Elimination of blisters and pressure points.
In an independent study experts concluded that trade professionals unsure about where to spend their money on hand tools should give priority to (a) those tools which need the greatest force applied, (b) those used for the longest time and (c) tools which need the most precise movements.
Allow me to offer some guidance on how to buy and use hand tools while at the same time seeking to protect your hands from muscle strain or injury:
Choose the right tool: manufacturers offer a choice of many different handle sizes for screwdrivers, pliers, wrenches and other hand tools. To avoid un-natural hand positions you need to use tools with a handle long enough to distribute pressure evenly over the palm, eliminating pressure points which could cause a callus.
Spring loaded pliers are good, provided you can lock them or have a spring with an on/off function.
Check that a tool allows you ‘precision grip,’ allowing small movements with your index finger and thumb, or ‘force grip,’ such as holding a hammer in your palm, or both.
Good ‘ergonomics’ equals good ‘economics’: any tool designed to fit comfortably in your hand and deliver great performance, using less force, boosts productivity while cutting the risk of strain or injury.
When choosing a large screwdriver look for one designed to optimize the torque transmitted.
Is the force with you? When using pliers, remember that the longer the shank, the lower the cutting force you will need. Also, the closer the rivet is to the cutting edge the greater the cutting force.
If possible, keep your hands warm: cold temperatures anaesthetise the hands and conceal pain.
Cold hands lose sensitivity and are more easily damaged by cuts and scratches, so keep them warm if you can.
Hand tool design, manufacturing materials and techniques have improved enormously since 1886, when Swedish craftsman J.P.Johansson, the founder of Bahco, obtained his first patent for ‘The Iron Hand, which we would now call a pipe wrench.
He aimed to replace fixed spanners with a single tool which would fit different sizes of nuts and bolts. Three years later he gained a patent for the first adjustable spanner. This became the ubiquitous adjustable wrench, still a toolbox essential.
Bahco engineers use a scientifically recognised programme to design ergonomic tools, which we pioneered more than 30 years ago. There are now more than 550 within our range.
The programme brings together the knowledge and experience of ergonomists, industrial designers and researchers. We ask independent tool users to put prototypes through the toughest testing they can devise.
Their feedback is vital, enabling the design and manufacture of a new ergonomic tool to be fine tuned until professional tool users are entirely satisfied it exceeds every target in terms of safety, comfort, durability, performance delivery and protection against hand muscle disorders.
You only get one pair of hands. Surely they are worth protecting by choosing to use ergonomic tools.