POWER TOOLS  tools.1.gif (67593 bytes)

Maybe it is because they look just like the tools they use at home, but far too many workers are overlooking portable power tools as the dangerous pieces of equipment they are. These are the same group of workers that are experiencing a multitude of burns, sprains, bruises, cuts, abrasions and amputations each year.

It is the supervisor’s responsibility to see that employees operate power tools in the correct manner, and that the rules below are explained and obeyed.

In The Work Area:  Employees should:

1. Keep all work areas free of clutter.
2. Be alert to hazards in the working environment.  (For example:  damp locations, highly combustible materials nearby, pits and other confined spaces where flammable vapors may gather).
3. Never surprise or distract anyone using a power tool.
4. Secure all work with clamps, bench stops, and keep hands free.

Using Power Tools:  Employees should:

1. Know the application, limitations and hazards of the tools used.
2. Select the proper tools, bits or cutting blades for the job and keep them sharp.
3. Remove chuck keys and adjusting wrenches before turning on the power.
4. Keep all guards in place and in good working order.
5. Check tools equipped with dust collectors regularly to make sure the collector is working efficiently.
6. Change and/or clean filters in exhaust as required.
7. Never force tools, or run them beyond recommended speeds.
8. Anticipate situations where a tool may jam or kick back.
9. Be aware that power tools may act differently depending on the material being worked.
10. Carry a tool by its handle.
11. Have ground prongs in place and only use 3-wire extension cords plugged into grounded receptacles, or use tools marked "double-insulated."
12. Use a ground fault circuit interrupter at the outlet or breaker box in addition to grounding in wet or damp conditions.
13. Use ear muffs or ear plugs when noise level exceeds 85 decibels.
14. Read all manufacturer's operating manuals.

Maintenance:  Employees should:

1. Have repairs to power tools made only by qualified persons.
2. Never use tools with frayed cords, or loose or broken switches.

Personal Responsibility:  Employees should:

1. Dress to prevent loose clothing, jewelry, or long hair from getting caught by moving parts.
2. Use safety glasses, face shields, respirators, and other protective clothing or equipment when required.
Portable Electric Tools   tool.gif (57535 bytes)

Because they are powered by electricity, electric power tools have different hazards than pneumatic power tools.  The biggest hazard associated with this type of tool is electrical shock.  The threat of shock increases when such tools are used in areas that are damp or when they are used in metal tanks.  This type of environment exposed the worker to conditions conducive to the flow of electrical current.

Unfortunately, there are times when electric tools must be used in these conditions.   Follow these steps for optimal protection:

Pneumatic Power Tools

While pneumatic power tools do not have electrical hazards, there are some other things to watch out for.  Workers should be trained in how to inspect three main parts of pneumatic equipment:  the tool itself, the air hose, and the coupling.  Stress the dangers of disconnecting the air hose from the tool to clean dust.  This creates a threat of the hose being dropped and left to fly around, hitting anything or anyone in its path.  To prevent this from happening accidentally, attach a short chain from the tool to the coupling and make sure the coupling is in good repair.

Some other points to consider:

As is the case when working with any power tool, appropriate protective equipment is vital.  Eye protection is nearly always a good idea, as power tools tend to create flying chips, dust or particles.  When working with pneumatic equipment, workers should also protect their hands, feet and torso in case tools slip or break during use.   Also, pneumatic tools ten to be loud, so special attention should be paid to hearing protection.

Hydraulic, Powder-Actuated and Gasoline-Powered Tools

Often used in the electric utility industry, hydraulic tools are a special class of power tool with their own unique hazards.  Basically, these tools are operated by liquid, generally water or oil, in motion.  This liquid is pumped through a hose.   One of the prime hazards of hydraulic tools is that leaks can develop in the hose or around the tool's fittings.  Cases have been recorded in which workers have tried to "plug" such holes with a finger or hand.  The high pressure has actually been known to force oil into the skin.  Therefore, it is vital that hydraulic tools be inspected for leaks, cracks or kinks and to ensure that all connections are secure.

Powder-actuated tools should be used only by qualified operators.  They are used to fasten fixtures to certain construction materials, such as metal, concrete, stone, wood, or masonry.  Blank cartridges, which are then ignited, serve as the power source for these tools.  Thus, not only are the tools dangerous, but so are the explosive cartridges.  Much like firearms, special care must be taken in storing and handling such equipment.  These procedures, as well as training programs, should be in accordance with the manufacturer's suggestions.  Also, anyone in the vicinity of a worker using a powder-actuated tool should be advised of safety precautions.

Chain saws are the most common type of gasoline-powered tool.  Operators must be trained not only in tool safety, but also in fuel safety.  All gasoline-powered tools must be in good operating condition with no signs of fuel leaks around the fuel line or the tank.  Guards are also important - to prevent accidental start-up and to protect workers from moving parts.  Also inspect spark plugs, wire connections and mufflers.   And finally, make sure there is an appropriate fire extinguisher readily available.

University of the Sciences in Philadelphia • 600 South Forty-third Street • Philadelphia, PA 19104-4495 • phone: 215-596-8800 • email: safety@usp.edu