"At 36 I can still work circles around the 25-year-olds, but my hands wake me up at 3am," a subcontractor told me. "And they were staying numb for four days at a time. It was bad enough that I couldn't even drive or hold a coffee cup or my cell phone without my hands going numb."
It's supremely ironic that tools, the very thing that helps craftspeople to earn their living, can also shorten their careers. Constant vibration and high-impact work take their toll on nerve endings never meant to endure repetitive stress.
This contractor had carpal tunnel surgery just this week, and hopes to get another done next month. I asked him what led to it. "The hardest thing on my hands is framing houses with a framing gun or doing demolition," he said. "It's the high-impact shit and the wrenching on pry bars that does me in."
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Long-term injury prevention should be the responsibility of the manufacturer and designer. Some are tackling it: Fiskars' IsoCore hammers are meant to reduce vibration through better materials choices, and as Festool showed us, "The key tools of the craftsman are his hands [and we have] taken up the task of protecting the worker's hands by [designing tools with] lower vibrations."
Fiskars and Festool are focusing on prevention, which is ideal. But what about the craftspeople for whom the damage is already done? In this case we need to develop design hacks that can allow these folks to continue doing what they love.
A good case in point is someone who needs to use bar clamps—yet has developed arthritis, which makes it difficult to tighten them down all the way. One such sufferer, an inventive fellow named Ray Johnson, came up with this simple, effective handle hack:
Meanwhile, Canadian Rob Cosman borrows a trick from hockey players:
If any of you suffer from debilitating injuries and have devised your own tool hacks, or know of any, please mention it in the comments; I'd like to document as many as possible here. Until all of the major tool manufacturers begin addressing this issue, we'll have to look to the masses to see what they've come up with.
Lastly I'll leave you with these two quotes. The first is from aforementioned subcontractor: "The world in general has no idea how hard it is on the body for tradesman like ourselves."
The second quote is from industrial designer and Coroflotter Colin Roberts, who worked on the IsoCore tools: "I think the primary goal of the Industrial Designer is to adapt technology to the human need."