Tools, both hand and power, are found everywhere at every job site, regardless of the trade doing the work. While these tools are a craftsman’s best friends, they bring many hazards to the jobsite. The same tool that makes a job much easier can also be the cause of a tragic or even fatal accident. The best way to prevent these accidents is to use tools carefully and keep them in safe operating condition. The Power Tool Institute states as a reminder "the demands of safety apply to all.” This includes the weekend do-it-yourselfer, the apprentice as well as the master craftsman.
Presented here are some basic safety facts for tools, things that everyone in construction should already know. However, it never hurts to be reminded of these common-sense safety practices. What follows is a true-false quiz to see how much of these practices are remembered and, more importantly, applied on the job. No scoring applies; you should be able to answer them all correctly.
1. When a chisel is unavailable at a job site, a screwdriver can be used in a pinch.
False. Never use any tool for any task the tool is not designed for, including power tools. Using a screwdriver as a chisel could cause the tip to break off and fly away. This sharp projectile could easily injure the user or another employee.
2. If the wooden handle of a hammer is loose, tape the head on and use the hammer.
False. Although this tool is being used correctly, it is damaged and should be removed from the job site. The head of the hammer has been "secured,” but the head could easily break free during use and injure someone.
3. While working around a flammable substance, non-sparking tools should be used.
True. Traditional materials like steel and iron can produce sparks under normal conditions. When used around a flammable substance, a tiny spark could be enough to cause ignition and a dangerous fire. When working around a flammable substance, tools made of brass, plastic, aluminum or a copper alloy, which is non-sparking, should be used.
4. Gloves must always be used when using power tools.
False. Although certain personal protective equipment, like goggles or face shields, are appropriate for power tool work, gloves are somewhat optional. When using certain power tools, wearing gloves can be more of a hazard. It is best to check the owner/operator manual for each tool to check on the need for gloves.
5. It is not necessary to read the owner’s manual for a power tool if you are just replacing a defective tool or an older model.
False. Always read and understand the owner’s manual of any new tool, even if it is just a newer or upgraded model of a previously owned tool. The defective tool may have been used for years but a new model may have slight changes that could make operating it without reading the manual dangerous.
6. It is OK to use power tools after you’ve had a couple of beers.
False. It is never all right to operate power tools under the influence of drugs or alcohol, even if it is only one or two.
7. It is a good idea to conscientiously repair and maintain power tools in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommendations.
True. All tools should be inspected at least at the beginning of each work day. They should be periodically cleaned and tuned up to keep them working at peak performance. Cutting edges should be kept clean and sharp. A sharp tool is much less of a risk than a dull one. A well maintained power tool is a safer power tool.
8. A tool’s cord should never be pulled to disconnect the tool, used to carry the tool or used around heat, oil or sharp edges.
True. Pulling a tool’s cord or carrying a tool by the cord could loosen the connections of the cord, weakening the integrity of the electrical system, increasing the risk of an electrical hazard. Heat, oil and sharp edges also pose a threat to the insulating ability of the plastic or rubber coating of the cord. If the coating is cut or worn enough, it can cause a severe shock to the operator or cause the tool to short out.
9. Keeping tools plugged in when they are not in use or when changing blades, bits, cutters and the like can be a real time saver.
False. Although not having to unplug and re-plug tools after each use may save some time, it can also increase the likelihood of an accident. Tools should be disconnected from the power source when not in use. This helps to prevent the danger of an accidental starting. By removing the power source before repairing a tool, the possibility of getting shocked can be removed from the workplace.
10. A tool with a faulty switch is OK to use if you can figure out a way to circumvent the switch.
False. A tool should never be used with a switch that isn’t functioning properly. Once the switch is discovered to be malfunctioning it should be removed from use until the switch has been repaired or replaced. A faulty switch may indicate that there is something much more seriously wrong with the tool.
Although none of these questions should have strained any brains, you can never repeat these safe practices often enough. Very often these simple safety ideas can save a life or at least make a job site a little bit safer. We too often lose track of the basics of safety while looking for the next big answer to our safety issues. Sometimes we can keep many workers safe with simple answers.
Diane Kelly is a safety specialist with INTEC, Waverly, Pa.