September/October 2000

Safety Sense   
preventative measures

Wrist Watch:

How to Avoid Wrist Injuries

by Dale Malcolm


Ergonomics—people involved with safety started talking about it in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The buzz was gone for a while, but now it’s back. Ergonomics is once again the word in safety. Design factors for the workplace should maximize productivity by minimizing operator fatigue and discomfort. Many business owners are afraid of what kind of impact an ergonomic standard mandated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) might mean to them, but in the long term it is more important to protect your employees from injury than to worry about a new law.

OSHA already requires that an employer provide a safe and healthy workplace. If you have a pattern of injuries in your business and you haven’t taken the steps to reduce those injuries, you may already be in violation of the OSHA General Duty clause.


Wrist Injuries

The wrist is one part of the body that the Ergonomics Standard targets. In the center of the wrist, surrounded by bone and ligament, is an area called the carpal tunnel. The median nerve runs through this space and connects the thumb, index finger, middle finger and half of the ring finger to the brain. In the same tight space run the tendons that move all of the fingers. The tendons are similar to the sheaths and cables that operate the brakes on a bicycle. When the fingers move, the tendons slide back and forth in the sheaths that line the carpal tunnel. At the end of a hard day of work, the tendons can become inflamed and swollen. If the work is repeated before the swelling is gone, the sheaths and tendons can become even more inflamed than they were previously. Over an extended period of time this swelling can get to the point of pinching off the nerve thumb and the first three-and-a-half fingers.

There are, however, some simple things that can be done to reduce strain on the wrist and tendons:

• Handgrips on tools should be large enough so your fingertips are not squeezing into the palm of your hand while gripping a tool, such as a screwdriver or a scraper;

• Keep your wrist in a neutral position. Bending your wrist while performing strenuous tasks puts excessive pressure on your tendons and muscles;

• A wrist brace worn (loose enough so not to cut off circulation) at night will help your wrist recover while you sleep;

• Use a hammer or mallet when pounding on a part or a tool and never use your hand as a hammer;

• Keep your tools sharp, which will decrease the amount of force needed to accomplish the task, and use powered caulking guns to dispense adhesives and sealants.

The other problem shared by many auto glass technicians is tennis elbow. This can be a result of extended strain and repetitive motion involving the wrist and forearm. The key to relieving this problem is to stop the strain at the first sign of pain as taking steps to avoid pain before it begins. Properly used power cutout tools can keep a busy auto glass technician working instead of out on sick leave. Excessive strain on the hands, wrists and arms with long knives, cold knives and scrapers could sideline your best employee. Keep the blades cutting sharp.

Dale Malcolm is technical services supervisor with Essex ARG of Dayton, OH.


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