David is a carpenter and has been working in construction all his life. David is very good at what he is doing, just by looking at blueprints he can visualize the complex assembly of a whole house. David works with Josh an apprentice carpenter with a couple years of experience. Every morning, David and Josh do the same routine, usually they get to the jobsite 15 minutes earlier, receive instructions from their boss and start working. In order to build the arch frame, they require additional tools on top of their usual toolbelts:
- Circular saw
- Impact driver
- Nail gun
- 24” x 16” Square
- 2’ level
- 3 different fasteners
- Power cord
That is already 17 different items and we are assuming the power tools are cordless and use the same 2 batteries, which rarely happen and, does not include any extra blades or bits. Depending on the company they work for and the type of construction site, these tools may be located in a sea can on the jobsite or in a toolbox located close to the work location. Either way, David and Josh will have to collect these tools and bring them where they are building the arch today.
If David and Josh are lucky and a toolbox is located right beside where they are working that day, then they can leave the tools in it and just pick the ones necessary as they need them. That means, all day David and Josh will be opening the box, move the tools not needed to the side and take the ones they require. It also means they will have to bend over to reach inside the toolbox many, many times throughout the day. This time adds up and can potentially cause back problems since they both have to wear a heavy toolbelt. If they are unlucky and the tools are located farther, then they will need to bring them closer, by any means, maybe a wheelbarrow or something, or by just doing many trips back and forth to the sea can. Either way, the end result is lots of wasted time gathering and carrying tools where the work is actually taking place.
Once located in the area they will be working all day, David and Josh start setting up. They built a table with the sawhorses they brought, and a sheet of plywood stored there. Josh run a power cord to the nearby temporary power panel while David is getting a cut list ready. David is doing the installation today while Josh is cutting for him. As the day go by and they use more and more of the tools they need, the work area gets messy. Even though they are doing their best to clean off cuts as work progress, the tools are getting spread out.
The charger and a spare battery are hooked up to the temporary power panel. The jigsaw is sitting under the sawhorses with some pieces of wood. The circular saw is hanging on a nail planted in one of the sawhorses. The stepladder is open where David is installing, and the nail gun and drill are on the floor beside one of the legs. David has the impact driver suspended on his tool belt with the 2’ level in one hand. The fasteners are in their respective boxes in the wheelbarrow and the square is on the table they fabricated. This is how a typical workstation look on a construction site.
Many thousands of buildings have been built and renovated that way and will continue for many years to come. But this situation causes two major issues: safety risks and lackluster productivity. There are tripping hazards from the tools and power cords on the ground, long term back problems caused by bending over to grab tools and puncture risks from the bits and blades left in the power tools. Notably, on the productive side are, the extra steps to get the tools, the continuous moving of tools in the way of the workers and the incessant bending and reaching. All these unnecessary movements add up to significant lost time throughout a building project and neither the trades people nor the building owners are enjoying them.
How can this be improved?
Getting rid of all the power cords and air hoses is a step in the right direction. All the major tools manufacturers work hard to reach that goal and I think it will not take long when all the best tools will be available in a battery powered format only. It is too bad that manufacturers cannot agree on a standard for battery packs, the problem now will be to deal with all the different chargers and batteries types.
Having a mobile tool cart, with all the tools above waist height would solve most of the ergonomics problems. Toolboxes are great, to store tools when you don’t need them, as a base to work off, not so great. One only has to visit a modern manufacturing facility to see what kind of workstation would be useful to construction workers. In a modern factory the tools are always positioned in a manner to make them visible, accessible and very close to where the productive work is taking place.
How would a workstation for a construction site look like?
- It has to be easily moveable, on rough terrain, with big wheels and lifting points to use mechanical means, if required.
- It has to be heavy duty, to resist the harsh conditions of the jobsite, waterproof, hard to tip over and made of high-quality materials.
- It has to be secure, so the tools can stay there overnight, that means: lockable with doors, a lid or collapsible design.
- It has to be independent, so you don’t need anything else outside of that workstation.
These four characteristics would make for a darn good construction workstation and would go a long way in helping David and Josh focusing on what they enjoy, to build things.