Ergonomics Wednesday – 16 – Try to Get a Handle on Your Yard Work Ergonomics

Lately I’ve been writing about the ergonomics of writing implements, hand tools and even cookware. I’ve been doing these less obvious topics to continue expanding on the idea of ergonomics being about more than your desk chair, keyboard and mouse (although I have written about all of those things), it is:

an applied science concerned with designing and arranging things people use so that the people and things interact most efficiently and safely

— called also biotechnologyhuman engineeringhuman factors

Because of this, ergonomics is an entire field of engineering. No, seriously, you can get a degree in this stuff. Ergonomists apply psychology and physiology to design, with the intent to make products, processes and systems easier and safer to work with, resulting in greater safety, comfort and productivity.

So, what about the terrible pun in the headline? I mean, there’s got to be a terrible pun in the headline, right?

Well, yes.

You see, as Dad is getting the cottage property ready for the final inspection before the sale goes through, there’s a lot of grunt work. Amongst other unpleasant tasks, there’s the small matter of getting the beach area cleared.

The weather the last couple of weeks has been odd, at least for late August. Usually at this time of year, the days are hot and sunny, the nights cool and clear. This year has been…a little different. The weather has been stormy; plenty of rain, and along with that, strong winds and big waves.

Strong winds and big waves is another way of saying, lots of crap washed up on the beach. It’s also another way of saying fall weather, and fall weather means dead leaves and branches falling from the trees.

All of which is a long winded way of saying that there is a lot of raking and shovelling, along with transport by wheelbarrow.

Do you know what rakes, shovels and wheelbarrows all have in common? Straight, cylindrical handles which, from the ergonomics’ standpoint, suck great big, dangly donkey balls. The ideal position of your hands, arms and back are not found in gripping a straight rake, or shovel, handle.

Fortunately, the companies which manufacture garden tools are starting to produce ergonomically better options. There are shovels with bent, or curved, handles. I don’t know yet if the Chinese style wheelbarrow is becoming available, but if you can get one, do so.

Chinese style wheelbarrow?

Yes, Chinese style wheelbarrow. The western wheelbarrow has a small wheel located at the extreme front of the barrow. The Chinese wheelbarrow has a large wheel located in the middle of the barrow.

What difference does this make?

First off, with the western style wheelbarrow, you are lifting the entire load, cantilevered from the wheel. With the Chinese style, the wheel is supporting the weight of the load, not you.

Second, if you are pushing the barrow, with the western wheelbarrow, the forward force is partially angled into the ground. Plus, the small wheel makes it harder to go over bumps. With the Chinese style, the force is directly forward, and the large diameter wheel is easier to push over bumps.

Third, it is simply easier to pull a Chinese barrow than it is to pull a western barrow. And it is simply easier to pull a heavy load than it is to push one.

There you have it, while the Chinese may be more famous for the printing press, fine silk, gunpowder and extraordinarily pretty girls, but it is their wheelbarrow that is their great gift to ergonomics.

So, next time you are shopping for yard work tools, keep in mind the shape of the handle. Straight=bad, bent/curved=better.