Article
“Ergonomics” might seem to be a modern term, but the ideas behind this 
science are likely as old as humanity. We humans have been adapting 
tools to fit specific tasks since the days of selecting just the right 
stone to bang a piece of flint into an arrowhead. More formal study of 
ergonomics has an interesting origin, though, in the ways airplane 
controls were adapted during the course of World War II.

Tool Tips: Why Finding the Right Fit Is Important

Chuck Ross
“Ergonomics” might seem to be a modern term, but the ideas behind this science are likely as old as humanity. We humans have been adapting tools to fit specific tasks since the days of selecting just the right stone to bang a piece of flint into an arrowhead. More formal study of ergonomics has an interesting origin, though, in the ways airplane controls were adapted during the course of World War II. Since that time, we’ve learned a great deal more about how the human body responds to – and can be injured by – the full range of furnishings and devices we use on a daily basis. And today, the science of ergonomics plays a major role in the design of just about every new tool in an electrician’s toolbox.

The early days of World War II saw amazing advances in military aircraft design, with planes adding banks of sophisticated new controls. As complexity grew, though, so did the number of crashes. The problem ended up being the fact that toggle switches controlling wheel and wing-flap operations looked identical and were located next to each other in the planes most frequently involved in crashes. Changing the ends of the controls so they were easily identified by touch solved the problem.

Today, though, we’re more accustomed to thinking of ergonomics in terms of worker health and safety. A lot of research has gone into the ways repetitive motion and awkward pressures can cause joint and nerve damage. Electrical contractors, in particular, can be injured by using hand tools that aren’t well designed for the tasks they’re meant to address. Mike Guarrera, a senior product manager with Burndy Tools, suggests a number of factors to consider when tool shopping to ensure both optimal performance and safety.

“The most important ergonomic considerations are related to the tool’s balance, grip design and speed of operation – tools with the center of gravity in close proximity to the user’s hand reduces the stress required to hold it in the proper position,” he says. Similarly, tools with non-optimal grip designs – either too big or too small – can require users to exert excess force, both in overall handling of the tool as well as during operation.”

Finally, he notes, how quickly a tool does its job also can be an important ergonomic factor. “Tools that have a faster speed will require users to hold the tool for a shorter period of time, thus reducing the overall stress and strain on their body.”
Photo courtesy of BURNDY
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