A research project involving 4,300 workers at more than 50 workplaces has found that people who often use a forceful gripping and pinching motion could face a higher risk of developing carpal tunnel syndrome.*
“Work shouldn’t hurt, so I view these results as a call to action,” says WSPS ergonomist Sandra Patterson. “We use forceful gripping and pinching motions in so many tasks. I see it across all industry sectors.” She also sees the painful and debilitating consequences.
Sandra has compiled a list of 11 practical ways in which workplaces can reduce the risk of injury from forceful gripping and pinching. But first, here are three common examples you’ll recognize:
- pouring coffee. “Think about how many cups of coffee restaurant servers pour. They’re gripping the pot and keeping their wrist from rotating.” If servers use a carafe rather than a pot, the strain may be greater. “It’s the time factor,” says Sandra. “No matter how much you tip the carafe, it always pours at the same rate.”
- hanging new stock in a store. With the reality of fast fashion, where designs go from fashion runways to retailers in weeks, racks of new clothing can arrive almost daily. Putting this new stock on display as soon as possible frequently involves repeatedly grabbing multiple items with an awkward, forceful pinch grip.
- assembling orders. Reaching into an open box to pick out items, then another box to pick out more, and then packing the order typically requires order pickers to bend their wrist, pinch and grip. “This combined action is particularly stressful,” says Sandra, “especially if you’re doing it multiple times a day. But something as simple as tilting the box forward could eliminate that awkward wrist posture. Now you’re just pinching.”
How to reduce the risk of forceful motion injuries
There are any number of ways workplaces can reduce the risk, says Sandra. Here’s a sampling.
- Identify forceful gripping and/or pinching tasks with input from workers
- Have decision-makers perform tasks requiring forceful motion, if safe to do so, so they understand the challenges workers may experience. Process engineers and workstation designers top the list of candidates.
- Look for ways to reduce hand-intensive tasks, such as holding an object with one hand while using a tool with the other. A jig that holds the object could eliminate static strain and free the hand for other activities - a health and productivity gain.
- Rotate jobs or expand the scope to reduce repetitive or prolonged pinching.
- Use the right tools and work height for the job, select tools that promote good wrist postures and power grips.
- Ensure hand tools fit comfortably and are maintained regularly.
- Use boxes with good handles.
- Use tool balancers for heavier tools.
- Watch for “home remedies” - changes made by workers to their tools and equipment (e.g., extra padding wrapped around a handle). These changes may identify potential problem areas and solutions. Ask why the change was made, whether it is helping, and if the workers have other suggestions.
- Talk to workers wearing wrist splints or massaging their hands.
- Encourage early reporting of “pins and needles,” tingling, and other symptoms associated with musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs)
Involving workers in the solution is your greatest opportunity to affect change. Giving workers say and control over their work is an important factor in reducing the risk of carpal tunnel system. How? “If I know what needs to be done in my shift, and as long as I get it done by the end of the day, I can then alternate between the different tasks that I have to do,” explains Sandra.
How we can help
Forceful gripping and pinching injuries are just one form of MSDs that can affect our muscles, tendons, ligaments and nerves. MSDs are the number one cause of lost-time injury claims.
“WSPS ergonomists can help you conduct audits, deliver hazard awareness sessions, work with your JHSC on their inspections, and help devise a sustainable, results-based MSD prevention program," says Sandra. “Whatever we do, we can customize it to your specific needs.”
WSPS also has extensive online resources, including onsite, classroom and online training, webinars, articles, downloads, pictograms, and more. Visit our MSDs topics page.
* Carpal tunnel syndrome is a medical condition caused by compression of the median nerve as it travels through the wrist at the carpal tunnel. Read a summary of the research project, published by the Institute for Work & Health.