This video describes how three different tools impact the risk of musculoskeletal injury to the back, wrist and shoulder when fixing steel at different work heights.
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Placing and securing steel bars used in reinforced concrete involves heavy manual materials handling and work in awkward postures.
Researchers from RMIT used wearable sensors to understand the risk factors for work-related musculoskeletal injury for construction workers who fix steel reinforcement bars.
The research showed hotspots for musculoskeletal injury in steelfixing are the back, the shoulder and the wrist. Steelfixing is typically carried out using a pincer cutter tool which is used to grasp, twist and then cut the two ends of the fixing wire.
When working at ground level using this tool, a steel fixer needs to bend their back and reach down.
Over long periods of time, poor back postures can lead to lower back injury.
Now let’s look at the same steel-fixing action using a long handled stapler tool, instead of conventional pincer cutters.
The long handled stapler tool reduces the need to reach down when working at ground level and introduces significantly less bending of the lower back.
While this tool reduces back movement when working at ground level, some back bending is still required in addition to the rapid and forceful movement needed to use the tool.
Repetitive risk movements can be hazardous when using pincer cutters to fix steel, because it involves twisting and turning.
Repeating this action over a working day increases the risk of injury.
A power tying tool was compared to the conventional pincer cutter tool.
The tool mechanically wraps, twists and releases the wire tie when the trigger is pulled.
The hazardous twisting action of the wrist was significantly reduced by the power tool – an important improvement in reducing wrist, forearm and shoulder injuries.
But while this tool reduces excessive manual wrist movement, it does not reduce the need to bend while working below knee level.
However, using this type of power tool may require static holding of the tool for long periods of time and the tool does not help to improve back or shoulder postures when working at very low and very high positions.
Working overhead uses awkward shoulder postures and movements that may lead to shoulder injury.
Working overhead should be avoided wherever possible.
However, if working overhead cannot be eliminated, the long-handled stapler tool reduces awkward shoulder movements, reducing the risk of shoulder injury.
Ergonomic tools can make a difference in reducing the risk of musculoskeletal injury in steelfixing.
But the tools need to fit the job that is being done.
Although the long handled tool reduced the need to bend the back, while working at ground level, it requires the use of a forceful pushing and pulling action to fix and twist the wire tie.
And although the power tool reduces excessive manual wrist movement, it does not reduce the need to bend while working below knee level.
Wherever possible, work should always be designed to avoid awkward postures, excessive bending of the back or work above shoulder height.
However, where this is not possible, selecting the best tool for the job can reduce the risk of injury.
The challenge for the construction industry is to encourage the development and use of new methods and tools that can improve postures and movements and reduce the risk of work-related musculoskeletal injury.