June 2010

Spotlight on Safety
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New Drilling Tool Eases Physical Stress on Wiremen

Pain. Fatigue. Wear and tear. For journeyman wireman Fernando Sierra, such symptoms can be part of the job, especially when doing tricky overhead electrical work.

"You're operating a handheld drill above your head and looking up as dust and particles fly in your face," said Sierra, a member of Portland, Ore., Local 48. "Plus, it tires out your arms, shoulders, back—it can be very challenging, especially if you're up on a ladder."

But a state-of-the-art overhead drill press in development at the University of California's ergonomics laboratory in Berkeley could help Sierra and his fellow workers by eliminating much of the physical stress that accompanies rigorous construction projects.

Featuring a wheeled tripod base, an extendable shaft that can reach an 11-foot-high ceiling and a rapid action hinge that makes bits easy to change, the press allows workers to bore into stubborn concrete or metal ceilings with ease from the safety of the ground.

Dr. David Rempel is part of a team of researchers from UC Berkeley and UC San Francisco who have studied ways to reduce fatigue and injury resulting from overhead drilling. Rempel worked with Sierra and other IBEW Local 48 members—plus members of the sheet metal and pipefitters unions—to test and refine the device, which has been five years in the making.

"We wanted to reduce the associated musculoskeletal disease for workers doing this task," Rempel said. "If someone does this work for many years, it can lead to arm and shoulder injuries."

Typical overhead drilling requires a worker to apply 55 pounds of pressure to a hand drill. The new press cuts that amount down to six pounds. Workers have also noted increased stability, reduced vibration and easier maneuverability when using the new device.

"It allows you to work smarter, not harder—which always pays off." Sierra said.

The press is currently in small-scale production in the Bay Area, and researchers are hoping the prototype device gets picked up by a large manufacturer. Two major companies have expressed interest but are waiting for the economy to rebound before deciding how to proceed, said Mary Watters of the Center for Construction Research and Training.

Members of various locals working for Bay Area-based Cupertino Electric are already test driving the new equipment. Cupertino is the first signatory contractor to employ the device in the field, and union leaders hope other companies will follow suit once the press becomes available nationwide.

"It's inexpensive, it's ergonomically sound, and there's no reason why it can't revolutionize the way many journeymen do a significant amount of their hardest work," said IBEW Safety and Health Director Jim Tomaseski.

To see the drill in action, visit http://ergo.berkeley.edu/.

Portland, Ore., Local 48 members helped test and refine a revolutionary new tool for tackling tough drilling projects.