Using hand tools to install a ceiling fan, fix a car, or repair plumbing are just a few situations where you can find yourself working with tools held above your head, in tight spaces, and in awkward body positions for extended periods. By properly selecting and using hand tools, you can prevent serious injuries, musculoskeletal disorders and unnecessary suffering, as well as lost workdays.
For many workers, using hammers, wrenches, pliers, screwdrivers, and other hand tools is part of their day-to-day work. Non-powered and powered hand tools, such as drills, are widely used in a variety of industries as well as at home.
Along with common injuries such as cuts and bruises, the frequent and extended use of hand tools can cause soreness, aches, pains, and fatigue, which, when ignored, can lead to chronic musculoskeletal disorders. Musculoskeletal disorders are injuries or disorders that affect the musculoskeletal system, including muscles, tendons and nerves. Common examples of musculoskeletal disorders are tendonitis, tenosynovitis, bursitis, tennis elbow (epicondylitis), and carpal tunnel syndrome.
You can help reduce these types of injuries and work-related musculoskeletal disorders by choosing the right tool for the job and using it correctly. Using a well-designed tool that fits your hand without causing awkward postures or harmful contact pressures, will help decrease the physical demand required to complete the task. If you use a tool that doesn’t fit your hand or use it in a way in which it was not intended, you risk developing an injury.
SIGNS OF INJURY
Problems that result from prolonged usage of the wrong tool or the right tool used improperly can appear as symptoms such as tingling, swelling of joints, decreased ability to move, continual muscle fatigue, sore muscles, numbness, change in skin colour of your hands or fingertips, and pain from movement, pressure, or exposure to cold or vibration.
These symptoms may not appear immediately - they can develop over weeks, months, or years. By then, the damage may be serious, so it’s important to take preventative action.
Static load, awkward working positions and postures, and tissue compression are all factors that can cause discomfort, fatigue and, eventually, musculoskeletal disorders.
Static load or effort occurs when you keep your muscles tense, motionless, elevated or extended for a period of time. Bending and twisting the neck or the whole torso can also increase static load considerably. When you add the exertion of force required by hand tools the static load can increase even further.
Static effort increases the pressure on muscles, tissues, tendons and ligaments. It reduces blood flow which can cause muscles to tire at a much quicker rate than they would when performing work involving movement. Statically loaded muscles are much more vulnerable to fatigue and subsequent injury than muscles which are performing dynamic work. Furthermore, muscles which are tired by static work take more than 10 times longer to recover from fatigue.
Awkward working positions and body postures
Hand tools can be useful when working in tight spaces and when access is difficult. However, working in a tight space often means working in an awkward position. When the hand holds and uses a tool in an awkward position, it has less strength. When your arm is uncomfortable, the rest of your body is likely to be so as well, because it is natural to compensate for discomfort by trying to realign the body by bending the back, rounding the shoulders, tilting the neck, and so on. Awkward positions of the upper body increase the effort needed to complete the task. The resulting fatigue, discomfort, and pain add to the risk for developing injury.
Using a hand tool requires a firm grip. However, if you are gripping too hard the resulting compression of soft tissue in the palm and fingers may obstruct blood circulation, resulting in numbness and tingling.
Selecting ergonomically designed tools and using them properly can help avoid pain and injury. This is particularly important when the job requires movements that are repetitive and forceful.
Some basic tips when using hand tools:
- Select the right tool for the job. Substitutes increase the chance of having an accident.
- Consider power tools for repetitive tasks, if appropriate.
- Use tools designed to allow the wrist to stay straight. Avoid using hand tools with your wrist bent.
- Use good quality tools.
- Pull on a wrench or pliers. Never push unless you hold the tool with your palm open.
The best tool is one that:
- Fits the job you are doing
- Fits the work space available
- Reduces the force you need to apply
- Fits your hand
- Can be used in a comfortable work position
Taking care and precautions up front can help to prevent a lot of pain and serious injury.
- Hand Tool Ergonomics – Introduction fact sheet, CCOHS
- Hand Tool Ergonomics – Health Hazards fact sheet, CCOHS
- Hand Tool Ergonomics – Tool Design fact sheet, CCOHS
- Hand Tools General - Hand Tool Operation fact sheet, CCOHS
- Hand Tool Ergonomics fact sheet, CCOHS
- Easy Ergonomics: A Guide to Selecting Non-Powered Hand Tools PDF, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)
- Diseases, Disorders & Injuries fact sheet, CCOHS
Tips & Tools
Wood dust is more than just a nose irritant floating in the air of a workshop or lingering on the floor waiting to be cleaned up. Breathing in these tiny dust particles can be harmful and, over time, make you sick.
Working with wood, such as sawing, routing, and sanding, can create wood dust. When the dust becomes airborne, you are at risk of exposure and inhaling it into your lungs. This can happen when removing sawdust from furniture, during maintenance activities, or when cleaning equipment (for example, emptying the bag from a dust system or vacuum). Fine dust produced from processes such as shaping, routing and sanding are associated with higher exposure levels. Hardwoods (such as maple and oak) generally produce more dust than softwoods (for example, cedar and pine) when used in similar conditions. Dry wood tends to produce more dust than fresher woods.
Exposure to wood dust has been associated with health issues due to the natural chemicals or substances in the wood such as bacteria, moulds, and fungi. Wood dust is also associated with toxic effects, irritation of the eyes, nose and throat, dermatitis, and decreased lung capacity and allergic reactions. Wood dust exposure can cause asthma, hypersensitivity pneumonitis, chronic bronchitis, and cancers in the nose and throat areas. Understanding the potential health risks of breathing in wood dust can be an important step in addressing this workplace hazard and protecting workers from harm.
Workers at risk
Some occupations are at an increased risk for exposure to wood dust including logging, sawmill work, furniture and cabinet making, carpentry, cleaning or maintenance where wood dust is present, construction and shipbuilding.
Safety tips for working around wood dust
- Educate and train employees about the hazards of wood dust exposure, safe work procedures, how to identify when a ventilation system is working appropriately, and the importance of control measures.
- Read, understand, and follow health and safety information on the safety data sheet (where available and applicable).
- Know the wood you are working with and all hazards associated with that wood.
- Use wood with no, or fewer known, health effects where possible.
- Reduce the amount of dust generated by reducing the need to cut or shape the wood.
- Use an appropriately designed industrial ventilation system, including local ventilation exhaust and using high-efficiency particulate (HEPA) filters. The design of the ventilation system will depend on the equipment being used (sanders, shapers, routers, saws, etc.).
- Use on-tool dust extraction systems.
- Keep tools and blades sharp. Dull blades may release more dust into the air.
- Be aware that you can be highly exposed to dust when cleaning (for example, emptying dust bags) or maintaining equipment.
- Practice good housekeeping, and keep surfaces and floors clear.
- Use wet clean-up methods such as wiping surfaces with a wet rag or mop or use a vacuum with a HEPA filter to avoid re-introducing the dust into the air.
- Avoid using compressed air to blow dust off of furniture, equipment or clothing.
- Bag and seal dust waste to prevent dust from re-entering the air.
- To prevent a combustible dust explosion, don’t allow wood dust to accumulate, including on ledges, ceiling beams, light fixtures, and hidden areas.
- Wear respiratory protection when appropriate.
- Use protective clothing and gloves to reduce skin exposure.
- Wash or shower to remove dust from skin. Wash hands and face when finished a task, and before eating, drinking or smoking. Clean clothes by washing or using a vacuum when washing facilities are not available.
For thousands of homebuilding, commercial and industrial construction companies and workers in Saskatchewan, accessing provincial health and safety regulations and employment legislation just got easier. A new app from the Saskatchewan Construction Safety Association (SCSA), Guide to OHS Legislation, is intended to help Saskatchewan employers and employees understand and comply with the legislative obligations within their workplaces. Each of the guide’s 20 topics includes a summary and related resources such as hazard alerts and safety talks.
“The OHS Regulations and Saskatchewan Employment Act are more than 500 pages in length. While workers, supervisors, and other managers are required to adhere to the Regulations and Act, it is often impractical for people to carry such a massive document in their back pocket” says Collin Pullar, president of the SCSA. “We felt that there was a need for a quick reference tool that focussed on some of the most common issues in construction safety with direct reference to the Regulations and Act. From the onset, we determined that the tool had to contain brief, plain language summaries and links to additional resources and training that employers and workers could benefit from. It had to be accessible anywhere and to anyone.”
The Saskatchewan Construction Safety Association collaborated with the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) to develop the mobile app as well as a web-based version.
Health and Safety To Go
This month’s featured podcast is an interview with CCOHS’ Jennifer Dipper, who shares WHMIS 2015 transition tips and information.
Feature Podcast: WHMIS 2015 Update: Tips to Transition
In this episode, Jennifer Dipper, Supervisor of General Health and Safety Services at the CCOHS shares WHMIS 2015 transition tips and key information workplaces need to know about meeting the new deadlines.
The podcast runs 7:24 minutes. Listen to the podcast now.
Encore Podcast: Ergonomic Risk Factors of Office Work
While office work may seem harmless, prolonged sitting, typing on a keyboard and using a mouse for hours at a time every day can set the stage for musculoskeletal injuries. In this podcast, CCOHS explains the three ergonomic risk factors of office work.
The podcast runs 4:36 minutes. Listen to the podcast now.
CCOHS produces free monthly podcasts on a wide variety of topics designed to keep you current with information, tips, and insights into the health, safety, and well-being of working Canadians. You can download the audio segment to your computer or MP3 player and listen to it at your own convenience... or on the go!
Mental health is a key component of a healthy workplace. And as part of healthy workplace, employers are required to protect their employees and address all workplace hazards, including psychosocial hazards. Many organizations, including the federal government, are committed to implementing the National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace as part of their health and safety programs. To help organizations advance from awareness to action, CCOHS is conducting a practical one-day workshop, “Creating Your Healthy Workplace”.
This workshop will equip leaders and champions of mental health with the framework, tools and resources they need to develop and implement a comprehensive healthy workplace program that addresses mental health.
Promoting a workplace culture that balances work, life, safety, health and wellness brings many rewards, including a more enjoyable and productive work environment, and happier, healthier employees who feel encouraged, supported and rewarded for their efforts.
October 3, 2017 from 8:30 am to 4 pm
Delta Hotels by Marriott, 39 King Street, Saint John, New Brunswick
$425 per person; materials, refreshments and lunch included
Register online. Space is limited.
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The Health and Safety Report, a free monthly newsletter produced by the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS), provides information, advice, and resources that help support a safe and healthy work environment and the total well being of workers.
© 2017, Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety
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