Cement work is the most grueling manual labor in the trades. Ergonomics (think standing desks if you’re an office worker) contribute to safety on the job. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health issued a free online book “Simple Solutions” with tips on the benefits of ergonomic adaption.
Concrete work involves lifting, stooping, kneeling, twisting, gripping, stretching, reaching overhead and working in awkward positions. Those physical tasks put concrete workers at risk of developing work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WMSD) including carpal tunnel, tendinitis, rotator cuff tears, back problems, and more.
Ergonomics is the science of identifying the proper position and tools that used together minimize injuries. The newest ergonomic tools can positively contradict damage to the body in many ways:
- Pouring cement requires workers to spend a significant time on their knees. The obvious remedy is knee pads.
- Using a screw gun with an extension to construct concrete forms eliminates stooping, the cause of lower back pain.
- A powder-actuated fastening tool with a stand-up handle runs upwards of $700 and can help workers avoid thousands of dollars in treatment for back pain.
- Motorized concrete screeds eliminate working in a stooped position and major stress on workers, backs, shoulders and arms, as the board is pulled over the wet concrete. A motorized screed is optimum for small to mid-sized jobs and reduces the effort needed for hand screeding.
- Tying rebar is at the top of the list of repetitive motions in concrete work. Instead of exposing yourself to hand-wrist disorders, invest in a rebar-tying tool. Manual and battery-powered rebar-tying tools automatically fasten the bars together with tie wire but do not have the strength to perform saddle or figure 8 ties. Adjustable extension handles can be added to some models of power rebar tools. A newer model that uses spring wire to bind the bars is the most ergonomic. Search for the terms “rebar tier” or “rebar tying system."
- A portable kneeling creeper with chest support will reduce stress to knees, ankles and lower back. Kneeling creepers cushioned knee supports and removable seats also allow cement workers to move around with ease on the rolling casters.
- Overhead work, particularly repetitive motion overhead work using a lot of force, reduces a worker’s ability to perform the job safely. Productivity lags, too. Installing embedded concrete inserts into ceiling forms eliminates prolonged overhead drilling to place all-thread rods for ceiling systems. Bit extensions on drills and screw guns allow you to hold the tool at waist or shoulder level vs. above your head. Mechanical lifts and hoists eliminate lifting materials or yourself manually.
Ergonomics Techniques and Training to Avoid Injury
While ergonomically-designed tools go a long way toward reducing injury, laborers must use proper techniques when lifting and moving materials and equipment. Musculoskeletal injuries can take years to develop or can happen with one small wrong move.
NOSH lifting guidelines:
- Do not lift more than 51 pounds
- Don’t reach more than 10 inches away from your body when picking up or setting down a load
- Don’t twist
- Lift with your legs not your back
- Keep your back as straight as possible
- Use a solid two-handed grip
Ergonomic Materials Help Too
Besides using the right motion and good quality ergonomic tools, materials used can make a positive reduction in jobsite injuries.
- A lightweight concrete block weighs up to 40% less than a regular block and exceeds the specs of traditional heavy concrete block. It’s endorsed by the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) C 90 Standards Specifications for Load-bearing Concrete Masonry Units.
- Using pre-blended grout eliminates carrying heavy bags to shovel into mixers.
- Skid plates are two-foot diameter metal disks that decrease the friction of hoses over rebar matting. The plates decrease the need for concrete workers to unhitch the hose from the rebar, bending over to free it or jerking it loose.
Ergonomic implementation can increase safety and productivity. Ace Cutting is your resource for all things concrete. Reach out to Ace for tool recommendations and tips on safety.
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