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Last Updated: , Created: Sunday, January 11th, 2004

Ergonomics -- Tools that fit our bodies

More and more manufacturers are making ergonomic claims for new tools: easier on your back, fits in your hand better, a less stressful grip and so on. I invited Dr. Ted Crowther who is the Director of Clinical Education of the Canadian Memorial Chiropractic College in Grimbsy, Ontario to help me understand and evaluate a series of new tools or at least new tool handles.

The first photo shows an interesting tool improvement for the weekend warrior. This is a firewood splitter designed to reduce stress. You set the wedge on the splitter and rather than swinging a heavy sledge hammer to hit it, you slide a weight up a guide pole and let it drop onto the wedge. This keeps everything in control and allows you to work at a more moderate pace. Ted's comment is that the real damage from splitting wood is not that your body is not capable of doing that job, but that it is not in shape to do it, so you force muscle and skeleton in ways they are not ready for, and end up on Ted's chiropractic table on Monday morning.

The second photo shows the support belt. There are two interesting things to note about support belts. Ted mentioned that they probably do as much good in protecting your back by simply reminding you to lift correctly as they do in physically supporting your back. They also tend to hold in your abdominal muscles, which the retail stores have discovered can have an unexpected negative side effect. When they put them on people who really didn't need much physical support, and left them on all day, like with the cashiers, these people developed weaknesses in the abdominal muscles because they were always supported. A good support belt will hang quite loosely from its suspenders most of the time, no tighter than your regular clothing, and have quick action tightening straps for the few seconds when you actually need the support.

The third photo shows a new paint roller handle. In the photo Ted is really bending his wrist, as you usually do with a straight handle, but the curve down design of this handle is planned so that you do not even bend your wrist at all while applying paint.

Speaking of handles, we even looked at Porter Cable's first for drills, a set of various sized pads that clip onto the drill handle, making it a proper fit for three different sized hands. Now both the household's small hands and large hands can efficiency use the drill.

The next photo shows an extension to a drill for driving screws into a floor. Professionals use these extended screw guns all the time, and now you can find them as add-ons to your electric drill. Ted pointed out that working on your hands and knees, with good knee pads, is not too bad; but working squatting down is real tough on the skeleton.

The last photo shows that right and left handed tools are also becoming more common, with 5 to 10% of the population being left handed. Here even curved to fit the hand paint brushes are made for both hands. Porter Cable now makes a left handed circular saw, meaning that left handed people no longer have to risk accidents caused by the fatigue of trying to work with the non-dominant hand.

Ted was not too impressed with the left and right handed wine bottle corkscrews, was intrigued with the left and right handed tape measurers (one upside down from the other) and couldn't really figure out the reversed clock. OK, not all change is necessarily progress.

Keywords: Design, Brushes, Drills, Support, Accident, Handles, Ergonomics, Security, Safety, Tools, Health

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