From materials handling and prefabrication to wire pulling and trenching, electrical contractors and their work crews tackle a wide variety of physically demanding tasks on a daily basis. According to OSHA’s statistics for Independent Electrical Contractors, over 30% of employee compensation claims (totaling over 10 million US dollars) were directly related to on-the-job ergonomics – or the lack thereof.
Protect yourself and your employees by implementing ergonomic standards throughout the workplace. Not only do ergonomics improve comfort, relieve stress, and increase productivity, they also substantially decrease the threat of injury, lost work time, and hefty compensation payouts. So take advantage of CableOrganizer.com’s categorical list of ergonomic best practices, tailored to fit the Electrical Contractor’s needs.
Safe Lifting and Material Handling Practices:
- Keep in mind that lifting loads in excess of 50 lbs puts you at an increased risk for injury. If the object you need to lift weighs over 50 lbs, team lifting is the smartest route to take. An excellent rule of thumb for lifting heavy loads is that there should be one person lifting per every 50 lbs of weight; for example, a 200-lb object would require 4 lifters.
- When it comes to manually lifting and carrying materials, always do so within your “power zone” – the area closest to your body, ranging from mid-chest level to mid-thigh. Working within the power zone allows your arms and back to lift the most effectively, while exerting the least amount of effort possible.
- Store materials that will be manually transported on shelves that have been placed at “power zone” height – between mid-chest and mid-thigh.
- Don’t allow just one shoulder, arm, or hand to bear the brunt of the load, since any of these lifting postures can place uneven stress on your spine. Prevent injury by balancing loads across your body as much as possible.
- When lifting an item off the floor or from a low-lying shelf, never bend over and lift it with your back – this can cause muscular and spinal injuries. Instead, bend your knees to lower yourself to the point where you can pick up the item; once you’re holding it, lift the item and raise yourself back to a standing position by straightening your legs.
- Prevent muscle and spinal injury by relying on ramps and lift gates instead of manually hoisting machinery and heavy materials up into work vans and truck beds.
- A great way to lower the risk of material-handling related injuries is to break supplies down into smaller, more manageable quantities before they leave your warehouse for the job site. A great way to implement this practice is to request that suppliers break down large orders for you prior to delivery.
- It might be tempting to roll heavy spools of wire and cable, but it’s best to avoid doing so – once large spools get moving, they can be difficult to stop. When it comes time for spool transport, opt for a spool caddy or hand truck instead.
- Junction boxes, raised floor tiles, and other smooth, flat materials can be lifted quickly and far more efficiently with suction tools/handles.
- Avoid twisting from the torso while lifting – if you need to turn, move your feet to reposition your entire body.
- Cut down on overhead reaching by using aerial lifts and ladders to move yourself and workers closer to elevated tasks and work areas.
- Install roll-out decks in work trucks to eliminate the need for workers to push heavy supplies far into truck beds or crawl in to retrieve materials.
- Provide workers with transport devices that are equipped with vertical handles. Unlike handles that are placed horizontally, vertical handles provide height-appropriate, “power-zone” handholds for workers of any physical stature.
- When using a cart to transport supplies, never stack materials above eye level. Anyone operating a cart should be able to see clearly over the top of the load, without needing to bend sideways to see around it.
- Whenever possible, push wheeled carts instead of pulling them. Not only does pushing require less effort, it also carries far less risk of the cart repeatedly running into the operator’s shins and ankles.
- Choose carts and hand trucks with pneumatic wheels, which move more easily over bumpy terrain, and even up and down stairs. Regularly check and maintain wheel air pressure so that carts can move smoothly with as little exertion from workers as possible.
Wire Pulling Safety:
- Because larger-gauge wire can be considerably heavier and stiffer than the smaller gauges, it usually requires a lot more effort to pull. When it comes to large-scale pulls, get the job done faster and prevent strain on the hands, arms, back and shoulders by using a mechanical wire puller.
- During wire pulls, cut down on friction and reduce the amount of force needed for the job by lubricating wires and cables as they enter the conduit.
- If you need to pull wire manually, wear work gloves that will improve your grip on wires and cables and protect your hands from cuts, blisters, and contact stress.
- During manual pulls, take regular breaks to rest the muscles, and frequently rotate employees between pulling and feeding tasks.
- In the event that an employee needs to be elevated to pull wire, use platform ladders, which – unlike regular ladders – allow workers to turn in the direction of their work while pulling, so that ergonomic postures can be maintained, efficiency can increase, and fatigue can be reduced.
- Use strategically placed portable pulleys so employees can exert greater pulling force while working in ergonomic postures.
Safer Connecting, Fastening, and Prefabrication:
- Prevent the joint strain that comes with frequent bending by storing tools and supplies on height-appropriate work surfaces.
- When stripping wires, reduce the amount of pulling force necessary for the task by making sure that the proper size wire stripper is used, and that its cutting edges are sharp and in otherwise good condition.
- Prevent repetitive motion injuries by staffing jobs in such a way that each employee switches tasks frequently, so that no group of muscles and tendons is overworked. For example, break up the repetitive wrist bending and finger twisting of wire connection with short periods of lifting tasks.
- Make sure that each worker is equipped with tools that fit their hand size. Tools with excessively short handles can cause contact stress injuries to nerves, tendons and blood vessels in hand, and tools that are too large can rapidly fatigue the hand and forearm.
- Choose tools that are as lightweight as possible, and come with padded, slip-resistant handles made of rubber or soft plastic.
- Wear the correct size gloves. Work gloves can be excellent at improving grip and protecting hands from abrasion and contact stress, but if they don’t fit correctly, gloves can actually do more harm than good. Gloves that are too large can cause muscle to overexert for even simple tasks, and gloves that are too tight can restrict both blood flow and movement.
- Avoid loading tool belts to over 50 lbs – wearing belts in weights that exceed 50 lbs places excessive stress on the back and hips, and can cause contact injuries.
- When digging cable trenches, avoid bending and twisting, which can result in lower back injury.
- Workers who are digging should be outfitted with the proper personal protective equipment, such as safety shoes (equipped with steel shanks) and protective work gloves.
- Since large-gauge conduit can be heavy, store it in containers or racks above floor level, so that the back and shoulders are spared awkward movements and overexertion when conduit sections need to be lifted or carried.
- When mechanical transport devices aren’t available to lift large spools of wire, team lift with two or more employees.
- Arrange spool racks so that they’re all adequately accessible, with the most-used spools within easiest reach – ideally between waist and shoulder height.
- Extended periods of welding can cause fatigue to the shoulders and lower back, especially if employees are required to bend or lean during the task. Promote less stressful, neutral postures by providing adjustable-height tables equipped with jigs.
- For any prefab job that requires standing in one place for long periods of time, use anti-fatigue floor mats to take stress off feet and ankles and help improve circulation.
- Wear kneepads anytime a task requires kneeling.
For additional information on ergonomics-related references and solutions for the electrical industry, we highly recommend OSHA’s Ergonomics eTool, which can be found at http://www.osha.gov/SLTC/etools/electricalcontractors/index.html. You can also find a wealth of Workplace Safety articles online, in the CableOrganizer.com Learning Center.