Recognizing the hazards associated with hand and power tools is key to worker safety at your precast plant.
By Evan Gurley
Tool use is unique to humans. In fact, anthropologists suggest that the use of tools is one of the characteristics that separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom.
The use of different power tools is common throughout manufacturing industries. These tools help workers perform tasks that would otherwise be difficult or impossible. But tools can potentially be harmful and prompt accidents such as electrical shock, falls, cuts and burns. Workers can avoid these accidents through proper tool use, care, maintenance and a well-organized work area. Paying special attention to hand and power tool safety is necessary to reduce or eliminate these hazards.
Hand and power tool hazards are addressed in specific Occupational Safety and Health Administration standards for general industry, shipyard employment, marine terminals, longshoring and the construction industry. General industry standard 1910 Subpart P, “Hand and Portable Powered Tools and Other Hand-Held Equipment,” governs manufacturing products in the precast concrete industry.
Basic safety rules
According to OSHA, following five basic safety rules can prevent all hazards involved in the use of tools.
- Keep all tools in good condition with proper storage and regular maintenance.
- Use the right tool for the job.
- Examine each tool for damage before use.
- Operate according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
- Provide and use the proper protective equipment.
Employees and employers have a responsibility to work together to establish safe working procedures. If a hazardous situation is encountered, it should be reported immediately to the proper individual. Employees using tools must also be provided with any personal protective equipment necessary to protect them from hazards such as falling, flying, abrasive and splashing objects as well as harmful dusts, fumes, vapors or gases.
Classification of power tools
Power tools are classified by their power source. Categories include:
- Portable abrasive wheel
Employees must be trained in the use of all power tools and should understand the associated potential hazards as well as the safety precautions required.
Employees using electric tools must be aware of several dangers, including electrical burns and shocks. To protect the user, electrical tools must have a three-wire cord with a ground and be plugged into a grounded receptacle, be double insulated or be powered by a low-voltage isolation transformer.
Tools with power cords must also be inspected frequently for cuts or damaged insulation.
When using electric tools, ensure they are:
- Operated within their design limitations.
- Stored in a dry place when not in use.
- Properly grounded and used with a ground fault circuit interrupter.
- Not used in damp or wet locations, unless given approval.
- Used in a manner where cords do not present a tripping hazard.
- Used in well-lighted work areas.
- Used with gloves and appropriate footwear.
Pneumatic tools are powered by compressed air and include drills, hammers, sanders and chippers. There are several dangers associated with the use of pneumatic tools, including the risk of being hit by an attachment or fastener. Eye protection is required, and head and face protection is recommended. Screens must also be set up to protect nearby workers from being struck by flying material. Noise is another hazard, but the effects can be reduced with hearing protection.
Fuel-powered tools are usually operated with gasoline. The most serious hazard associated with the use of fuel-powered tools comes from fuel vapors that can burn or explode and also emit dangerous exhaust fumes. Workers must be careful to handle, transport, and store gas or fuel only in approved flammable liquid containers. When a fuel-powered tool is used inside a closed area, effective ventilation and/or proper respirators must be used to avoid breathing carbon monoxide. Fire extinguishers must also be in the area.
Hydraulic power tools
The fluid used in hydraulic power tools must be fire-resistant and must keep its operating characteristics at the most extreme temperatures. Employees must not exceed the manufacturer’s recommended safe operating pressure for hoses, valves, pipes, filters and other fittings. All jacks must have a stop indicator, and the stop limit must not be exceeded. The manufacturer’s load limit must be permanently marked in a prominent place on the jack, and must not be exceeded.
Two different kinds of safety devices are used with portable power tools – safety switches and guards.
Safety switches are designed to prevent an employee injury by automatically turning off equipment when an employee is not using the powered tool. The most common type of safety switch is a constant pressure switch. These switches are designed to shut off power to the tool when pressure on the switch is released. In addition, some tools may have a lock-on control, which can be turned off by a single motion.
Safety guards should be provided, as necessary, to protect the operator and others in the work area from rotating parts and flying material. Guards must never be removed or bypassed during operation. Portable circular saws with blades greater than 2 inches in diameter must be equipped with guards at all times. A retractable lower guard must cover the teeth of the saw, except where it makes contact with the work material. The lower guard must automatically return to the covering position when the tool is withdrawn from the work material.
Purposely removing a safety guard from a machine and failing to properly reattach it for operation is defined by OSHA as a “willful violation.” Penalties of up to $70,000 may be proposed for each willful violation, with a minimum penalty of $5,000.
Employee training is necessary
Even the most elaborate safeguarding system cannot offer effective protection unless workers know how to use it and why. Specific and detailed training is thus a crucial part of any effort to safeguard against machine-related hazards. Safety training is necessary for new operators and maintenance or setup personnel when any new or altered safeguards are put in service or when workers are assigned a new machine or operation.
Ruben Gallegos, safety manager for Jensen Precast, explained just how effective his company’s power tool safety program has been.
“Through employee feedback and reporting, we have corrected conditions that could have led to a recordable injury,” he said. “Every employee in the company is empowered to look out for their safety and the safety of others.”
All tools are manufactured with safety in mind, but serious accidents often occur before steps are taken to search out and avoid or eliminate a tool-related hazard. Understand the hazards associated with hand and power tools and their injury prevention techniques to improve worker safety.
Sidebar: General Power Tool Precautions
- Ensure the tool casing is not broken and no wiring is exposed.
- Never carry a tool by the cord or hose.
- Never yank the cord or the hose from the receptacle to disconnect.
- Keep cords and hoses away from heat, oil and sharp edges.
- Disconnect tools when not in use, before servicing and when changing accessories such as bits, cutters and blades.
- Keep all observers at a safe distance away from the work area.
- Secure work with clamps or a vise, freeing both hands to operate the tool.
- Avoid accidental starting. Do not hold a finger on the on/off switch while carrying a plugged-in tool.
- Maintain tools with care. Keep them sharp and clean and follow the instructions in the user’s manual for lubricating and changing accessories.
- Keep good footing and maintain good balance.
- Do not wear loose clothing, ties or jewelry while using power tools.
- Remove all damaged portable power tools from use and tag them “Do Not Use.”
Evan Gurley is a technical services engineer with NPCA.