What is an industrial ergonomic handle?

Range of access hardware products ready to be fitted on an industrial application

Some manufacturers call their door handles ‘ergonomic’ without really knowing what the term means. We’ve put together this guide to help you understand how ergonomic-grip design is defined. We also explain examples of ergonomics and give you resources for helping you with your own design. We’ve also included resources to help with your own design, while explaining examples of ergonomics. Here, we cover:

What is ergonomic design?

Ergonomics – also called human factors engineering – is about designing products so that they’re comfortable for people to use. Or think of it this way: it’s designing a product so that it fits the people who use them, taking discomfort, the risk of injury and fatigue out of the equation.

The fewer muscle groups needed to operate your product, the more efficient it is to use. This is essentially what defines ergonomics in design. There’s just one hitch. People come in different sizes, so what’s ergonomic for one person might not be ergonomic for someone else. We’ll come back to this in a moment.

Why are industrial ergonomics important?

Industrial ergonomics is workplace specific. It concerns the requirements of a job and the physical needs of the people performing it in workplace. . For example, an industrial ergonomist will examine each task the worker undertakes in doing a job. Next, an analysis is done to determine how those actions will affect that worker, be it carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis, lower back pain or another disorder. 

Industrial ergonomics therefore attempts to prevent worker-related injuries and disorders. If you’re designing a piece of industrial equipment, such as machinery or hand tools, you need to think about handle ergonomics. 

What are the five aspects of ergonomics?

There is no need to sacrifice safety for efficiency. Industrial ergonomics, specifically, hand ergonomics, make both possible. To incorporate ergonomics into anything you do or design, you need to consider these factors:

1.    Safety
How will your idea help prevent accidents, incidents or stress to the worker? Your design should make users feel secure and include defences against these possibilities. 

2.    Comfort
This is about creating a user-friendly process or product. The temperatures workers are exposed to should not be extreme. Their work should not continually overexert themselves. Workers need the right support, be it lifting belts, footwear, standing mats, or whatever they need for more comfort, such as an ergonomic-grip handle, so a range of tools is important.

3.    Ease of Use
Avoid requiring workers to make awkward movements. This puts unnecessary stress on the body, from necks and eyes to backs and knees. Put tools within easy reach. The point here is to give people easier methods of working, which includes considering hand-grip ergonomics which match the needs of the users.

4.    Performance
This is a result of ease of use. Unnecessary standing or strained movements enables people to work faster, boosting their productivity. 

5.    Aesthetics
Aesthetics blend function, usability and design, delighting our senses and inspiring our responses. Ergonomic aesthetics make everything easy to understand, from instructions and operating procedures to warnings. Poor design can lead to unnecessary fatigue, stress, and injury.  

What are examples of ergonomic equipment?

The ergonomic equipment most of us are aware of can be found in office workstations. Other examples of how ergonomics benefit workers include chairs, keyboards, the computer mouse, a desk at the right height for the worker and a drawer that opens with an ergonomic handle. 

Ergonomics are also becoming more common in industrial environments. Lifting tools and equipment, for example, are being designed for the welfare of humans. So are hand tools.

At home, power tools and hand tools are providing a more comfortable grip with ergonomic handle designs. Other examples include an ergonomic suitcase handle, ergonomic knife handle, ergonomic walking stick handle, ergonomic crochet hook handle, ergonomic rake handle – even an ergonomic mop handle. 

Ergonomic handle design

Now that you have a better understanding of ergonomics, the next step is to apply those principles of ergonomic design to door and drawer handles. Generally, ergonomic handle design should provide at least one of the five points of ergonomic design we just talked about.  

Graphic depicting how anthropometric data can support ergonomics in design

The best door handles: what to look for

What is an ergonomic door handle? Ergonomic handles have different types. That's why there is no one answer. There is no one answer. It depends on your application, of course. If you’re looking for industrial cabinet pulls, industrial drawer handles, an industrial door pull – or any kind of handle with ergonomic features, then consider how the handle reduces possible injury risks.

Is an awkward posture required to use the handle? What about repetitive exertions? Can the industrial handle catch clothes or skin? If you’re satisfied with your answers, then an element of ergonomics is at work. What you should consider are these factors:


The standard door knob is not considered ergonomic. It has a rounded surface, which requires the user to apply pressure for a strong grip in order to turn the handle fully. For industrial handles, consider these examples:


L-handle – Like the T-handle, it provides an ample grip area. The user simply pushes downward, and the mechanism is activated, alleviating the user from stress to joints. These work particularly well for industrial cabinet handles.


Swing handles – cam latches, lift & turn
The elliptical shape won’t snag clothing or skin. Slam-action, spring-loaded handle is easy to use, either indoors or outdoors. Ideal for cabinets, enclosures and machinery covers.

  • Pull handles with a generous handle length and rounded shoulders work particularly well for machinery and equipment. Like swing handles, these industrial pulls won’t catch clothing or skin.

You can learn more about handles in our guide, Handle design: T, L and pull handles. 

Adjustable T-handle with compression


Swing handles fall under this category but here, we’re talking about non-slip attributes. An example includes:

Adjustable T-handle with compression – Not only does this have an ergonomic grip, but the lock compresses gaskets against door and panel openings, providing a tight seal. This compression has an added benefit: it resists vibrations.

Man inspecting some industrial door pull handles

Ergonomic knobs

Material can add elements of ergonomics. In and of itself, that technically does not make a handle ergonomic, but if you’re looking to make the user experience more comfortable, material can help tremendously.

We mentioned that standard door knobs are not ergonomic, but that doesn’t mean all spherical knobs aren’t.


Ball knob

The ball knob, used in applications such as electronics, hydraulics and machinery, is available in low density polyethylene (LDPEand phenolic. These materials have a soft finish and are comfortable to the touch.

Thermoplastic elastomer (TPE) is often used to make better grip tools. It’s become the material of choice for ergonomic hand and power tools. Similar to rubber, it has a tactile feel and provides a soft-touch grip.

You can learn more about this synthetic rubber in our guide, TPE and TPR: What are the differences?

TPE is also used in some knobs.

Female lobe handwheel knob

Female lobe handwheel knob with five lobes has an inner moulding of polypropylene, and a TPE over moulding. Lobes are beneficial, because they enable the user to get an excellent grip.


Non-slip hand gripping is important for comfort. Grooves allow for an ergonomic hand grip. 

Fluted grip knobs

Fluted grip knobs are suitable for machinery and electronics. The ridges around the head provide a firm, comfortable grip. The nylon knob resists oils, fuels, and greases.

Knurled knobs

Knurled knobs have small patterns on the side to provide a non-slip grip while the knurled rim keeps fingers from slipping. Where it’s especially helpful is in turning counter clockwise, which requires more force exertion than turning clockwise. 

Grip knobs

Grip knobs also have a pattern on the side that enable a comfortable grip while preventing the hand from slipping, ideal for use if water is a potential threat. Also resists oils, fuels, and greases. 

Worker installing industrial handles in a production area

How do you choose the right handle size?

If hand sizes differ, how are you supposed to determine an ergonomic handle grip for doors?

You can decide your ergonomic handle dimensions through the use of anthropometrics, the study of human body measurements. 

When it comes to industrial handles, you’re dealing with a tricky area. It’s not like, say, a pair of pliers, where a person can choose what they find the most comfortable. An industrial door handle is to be used by everyone who needs access to the other side.

By using anthropometrics, you can best choose ergonomic handles for your application. Because you’re dealing with so many users, both male and female, you’ll use the largest hand dimensions that your data gives you. 

For example, NASA has this anthropometric data on hands:

40-Year-Old American Male for Year 2000: values in cm


5th percentile

50th percentile

95th percentile

Hand length




Hand breadth




Hand circumference





Let’s say you yourself are in the 95th percentile. That means 95% of the other values within the population fall below you and 5% are above you. You should consider each of the hand dimensions in the 95th percentile when choosing your handle.

Anthropometrics vary database to database, depending on the people who were studied. If you want the body dimensions of the Belgian population, you can find it. Chilean workers or U.S. Marine personnel? The data is out there.

Other helpful databases to consult are held by:
●    DINED – A Dutch resource, but they hold databases on populations by age and sex across different countries.
●    Matthew P. Reed, Ph.D., University of Michigan – Reed conducts research in anthropometrics and biomechanics.
●    University of Alberta libraries – You’ll find multiple databases that you might find useful.

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