Construction companies are increasingly allocating more money for labor-saving items that reduce man hours in the field while limiting liability risks. Handheld tools and devices can enhance worker performance and reduce owner overhead costs for increased market competitiveness. Greater productivity can be achieved through safer, ergonomic devices that increase efficiency while reducing health insurance-related claims.

Photo by Southwest Photography
Manually tying rebar involves rapid, repetitive and forceful body movements that limit the amount of time workers can do the task safely.

Innovation, in part, has been driven by companies forced to do more with less during a deep recession. The most popular, best-selling items often address repetitive stress injuries, which cost employers more than $20 billion annually in workers compensation, reports the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Another $100 billion is spent on lost productivity, employee turnover and therapy and/or surgery.

However, manufacturers like Mineola, N.Y.-based MAX USA are curtailing that pricey trend with a handheld rebar tier that looks and acts like a cordless power drill. The company’s new model RB 397 can tie up to size 6 rebar with a squeeze of the trigger, dispensing 2,000 ties per charge. It is powered by a rechargeable Lithium-ion battery. The 14.4-volt RB 397 helps reduce carpal-tunnel syndrome, while improving efficiency with three wraps per tie using 21-gauge wire. MAX also offers an extension handle so workers can stand upright while tying rebar.

Manually tying rebar at ground level involves pliers, wire and deep, sustained trunk bending with rapid, repetitive and forceful hand-wrist forearm movements that limit the amount of time workers can safely perform the work. A battery-powered rebar tying tool “significantly reduces” those movements while freeing one hand to support the trunk during tying, reports the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

Although the MAX RB 397 costs about $2,600, the average compensation for a carpal-tunnel injury is $33,000, reports the National Council of Compensation Insurance. Construction laborers had an incident rate of 35 per 10,000 full-time workers in 2011 due to overexertion and repetitive motions, says the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Indeed, frustration over aches, pains and scrapes prompted Australian concrete laborer Ray Rowbotham to invent the Robo-Joiner BNRJ-100. The 5.75-lb, rechargeable device, which resembles a jig saw on steroids, cuts concrete control joints with speed, ease and accuracy.

“In the old days, you would have a hand tool that you would have to push along and pound to create the joint,” Rowbotham says. “This does it automatically in half the time with less cracking.”

Powered by dual 20-volt Lithium-ion batteries, the Robo-Joiner can produce saw-cut and rolled edges using two 3/4-in. blades that move at up to 2,400 rpm. The variable-speed trigger-controlled device sells for $695, nominal compared to the 12 lost work days and $38,500 in average compensation paid out for repetitive stress-related injuries, according to the BLS.

Opening Doors

Rowbotham, like many industry pundits, is seeking the best solutions to worksite problems. Take Travis Kelley, for example. An ex-Minnesota construction worker, he was working as a warranty representative for a door manufacturer when he realized things could be done better. “Ninety-five percent of doors failed due to bad installation, which causes uneven tension and premature warping,” says Kelley. He founded JenTra Tools with wife Jen in 2011. “Installing doors can be confusing and frustrating, regardless of skill or professional level,” he says.