The Ergonomics of Cable Pulling: Improving Safety at Electrical Installations

Cable pulling is hard work, and if you’re not using appropriate equipment, it’s potentially dangerous. Fighting out cable from a reel can lead to musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), one of the leading causes of on-the-job injuries.

The Ergonomics of Cable Pulling: Improving Safety at Electrical Installations

According to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), the construction industry suffered 18,480 MSD incidents resulting in days away from work in the 2020 calendar year. That’s an incidence rate of 26.9. 

Ergonomics—the science of fitting the work to the worker—can improve the math. Cable pulling often requires heavy lifting and unnatural movements, but appropriate equipment can help electrical installers work more safely (and much more efficiently). 

Cable Pulling for Electrical Installers: Identifying Ergonomic Risks

Employers have a strong incentive to promote ergonomic cable pulling. To build an ergonomics-first mindset, it’s important to understand the potential risks of pulling cable. Here’s a look at the three most significant hazards.

1. Heavy Pulling

Wire runs frequently run through ceilings and floors, and in many instances, you’re working through chases and conduits. That typically means a lot of hard pulling and repetitive motions.

OSHA identifies several factors that can increase exertion during cable pulls:

  • Pulling large-gauge wire requires more effort than pulling smaller gauges. More effort translates to more stress on the hands, shoulders, arms, and back.
  • Running wire through a small-diameter conduit increases the resistance and requires more exertion
  • Pulling wire through bends in conduit creates restriction points, which also increases the exertion. 

To reduce exertion, invest in mechanical equipment that keeps wire pulls within the power zone. The power zone (or golden zone) is the area near the core of the body between the shoulders and knees; learn more about using the golden zone for safer lifting. 

Even payout is also important. If the worker must fight against the equipment to get an adequate amount of product, they’re expending too much effort and working less efficiently. 

Recommended Product: Parallel Reel Payout (PRP)

The Parallel Reel Payout (PRP) simplifies cable pulling with free-spinning, multi-compartment reels, providing an even payout. Each hub can be locked to prevent unwanted payout, and four-way fork pockets allow for optimal positioning on any jobsite. 

The PRP is available in several models with various reel combinations, enabling electricians to keep multiple cables on one master unit. The standard reels can accommodate a wide variety of wire gauges (0.75 inches to 1.12 inches), and custom units are available. 

2. Heavy Lifting

When electricians load reels onto jack stands at the jobsite, they’re lifting hundreds of pounds of product. A reel of 12 AWG metal clad cable can weigh upwards of 300 pounds (including the spool). 

You could use the product spec sheets and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Lifting Equation to determine whether fully loaded reels constitute an ergonomic hazard at your workplace. But we’ll save you some time: No worker should be tasked with lifting that much weight. Even if several workers get involved, there’s a serious risk of injury with every lift. 

The simplest solution is to use material handling equipment (MHE) to place the reels on a payout system before beginning installation. As we discussed above, a payout system also limits the exertion required for cable pulls.

Recommended Product: Wire Coil Cart (WCC)

The Wire Coil Cart (WCC) ensures that electricians don’t have to make multiple trips back and forth to bring wire, harnesses, and other supplies to the project site. 

A curved handle relieves back strain for the operator, while lockable rubber-faced casters move product easily while protecting floors. Removable posts secure cable and wire reels during transport. With a standard 2,000 lb capacity, the WCC is an exceptional material handling solution. Custom builds are available. 

3. Awkward Postures

Positioning wire and cable reels can be tricky. Electricians may need to stand on ladders or bend to pull wire through floors, which translates to twisting torsos. For many electricians, this is relatively “light duty,” but it’s still awkward positioning, and it’s still an ergonomic risk.

Once again, the wire should remain within the worker’s power zone. Employers can make small changes to enforce good ergonomic practices: 

  • When using a ladder, ensure that the ladder or work platform is tall enough for the job. If workers must reach over their heads, they need more elevation.
  • Wherever possible, use mechanical wire pulling equipment. Mechanical wire pullers can perform the work of several humans, feeding wire to electricians without awkward posturing or heavy pulling.
  • Enforce frequent breaks.
  • Encourage workers to report ergonomic issues and MSD symptoms.

Recommended Product: Forklift Work Platform (FWP)

The BHS Forklift Work Platform (FWP) securely attaches to a forklift to elevate an individual for maintenance tasks (such as pulling cable overhead). Safety features include a 42-inch-high guard railing, a 4-inch toe guard, and an expanded-metal mast guard. Safety harnesses can be attached at multiple points.

Wherever possible, you should limit ergonomic hazards with engineering controls—eliminate risks by investing in appropriate equipment and implementing physical changes to the workplace.

Ergonomic Tips for Safer Cable Pulling

Wherever possible, you should limit ergonomic hazards with engineering controls—eliminate risks by investing in appropriate equipment and implementing physical changes to the workplace.

Of course, administrative controls and ergonomic work practices are also crucial. Some tips to keep in mind: 

  • Before installation begins, make sure you have the right equipment for the job. A wire puller won’t be especially useful if it doesn’t support the gauges you’re using.
  • Avoid rolling large reels and spools. While rolling might seem like the fastest way to transport materials, a rolling reel is a major hazard. Invest in appropriate material handling equipment instead.
  • Lubricate wires where possible to reduce the force needed for wire pulls.
  • Ensure that employees have access to personal protective equipment (namely, work gloves).
  • Train electricians and apprentices to work within the “golden zone" when lifting and pulling.
  • When tasks are repetitive or require awkward positioning, enforce frequent breaks.
  • Encourage your team to report hazards and suggest improvements. 

Ergonomic Cable Installation Solutions for Electricians and Electrical Wholesalers

BHS provides a range of payout solutions to help electricians work safely and efficiently. From value-added solutions like the Spool Winding Trolley to the turnkey Parallel Reel Payout Trailer, we simplify wire management—and give workers more precise control over wire and cable.  

Each product is engineered with ergonomics as a priority, and all BHS equipment can be customized to meet the needs of the application. To learn more about cable-handling equipment from BHS, call our sales team at 1.800.247.9500.