More Power to You

Today’s sophisticated power hand tools offer many advantages such as speed, accuracy and improved ergonomics. They’ve become such an integral part of project work, that we hardly think twice about using them. However, that much power sitting right in your hands does pose some serious risks, so handling tools safely is the always the most important step in the job process.

There are some basics that never change when handling power tools:

  • Always learn how to handle each tool safely before you start working with it. Ensure that you understand all of its limitations and hazards.
  • Use each tool for the job for which it is designed and don’t ‘cross-purpose’ for other job functions
  • Inspect every tool thoroughly before each use
  • Always keep tools in good repair. Never use a damaged tool under any circumstances.
  • If you notice any wear and tear or damage to a power tool, immediately take it out of rotation, tag it and inform a supervisor.
  • Ensure that all tools have the mandatory safeguards in-place. Never remove or modify them for any reason.
  • Always wear the prescribed Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) when handing power tools. This may include eye or full-face protection, gloves, safety footwear, hardhat, protective jacket or hearing protection.

There are different types of professional power hand tools available and each have specific differences in safe operation. Ensure that you follow all manufacturer guidelines, and that you have a comprehensive training protocol established for your workplace. One of the biggest mistakes you can make is assuming that everyone knows how all power tools operate.

Here are some specific tips for handling the most commonly used types of power tools:

Electric

Whether corded or battery powered, one of the biggest risks you will face is electric shock with these types of tools.

  • Check to ensure that a tool with a 3-prong plug has a corresponding, approved 3-wire cord of sufficient gauge and insulation. All cords should be inspected for wear before use.
  • Avoid light-duty extension cords that may over-heat and be sure not to overload receptacles
  • Don’t use tools in wet conditions unless they were made for that use. Also be sure to use only ground fault circuit interrupter receptacles (GFCI) in these cases.
  • Don’t disconnect the power source by pulling on the cord or carry the tool by the cord to avoid wire damage
  • If you notice that a tool is overheating, is generating sparks or is causing a tingling sensation in your hands, take it out of operation immediately
  • Never jury-rig a power source or splice cords together
  • Keep power cords away from heat, water, oil, sharp edges, moving parts or foot/vehicle traffic, as damage to the insulation can cause a shock
  • During use, keep power cords clear of tools and away from the path that the tool will take
  • For battery-powered tools, use only the battery and charger that is specifically intended for that tool

Pneumatic

Pneumatic tools are powered by compressed air and are very powerful. Common types of air-powered hand tools include nail guns, stapling guns, grinders, drills, riveting guns, and jackhammers. The primary hazard when using a pneumatic tool is being hit with a loosened attachment or fastener.

  • Before you begin a job, make sure that the tool is fastened securely to the air hose to prevent them from becoming disconnected while in use
  • Make sure air hoses are safe from sources of cuts and abrasions in your workspace and that they do not present a tripping hazard
  • Never point a compressed air gun at yourself or at another person
  • Always use the recommended air pressure for the project task
  • Post warning signs wherever pneumatic tools are being used. Where applicable, set up screens or shields in areas where nearby workers may be exposed to flying debris, dust, and excessive noise.
  • Ensure that the compressed air supplied to the tool is clean and dry. Dust, moisture, and corrosive fumes can damage a tool and cause it to malfunction. An in-line regulator filter and lubricator also increases tool life.
  • Keep tools clean and lubricated, and maintain them according to the manufacturers' instructions.
  • Never store or leave a loaded air gun unattended
  • Use only the attachments that the manufacturer recommends for the tools you are using

Powder Actuated

A powder-actuated tool is a nail gun (sometimes called a Hilti or Ramset gun) used in construction and manufacturing to join materials to hard substrates such as steel and concrete. This technology relies on a controlled explosion created by a chemical propellant charge. Powder-actuated tools come in either high velocity or low velocity types.

  • Powder-actuated tools operate much like loaded guns. Always handle this tool type with the same respect and safety precautions as you would a firearm.
  • These tools normally provide some kickback, so it’s wise to brace yourself when working with them, especially if you are working from a ladder or scaffold
  • Always keep tools pointed in a safe direction. Never point powder-actuated tools at yourself or at anyone else.
  • Load powder-actuated tools just before you use them. Do not carry loaded tools from job to job in order to reduce the risk of accidental discharge.
  • Do not leave loaded powder-actuated tools unattended
  • Do not fire fasteners into materials that would let them pass through to the other side or that may easily chip or fracture.

Some other general safety tips for hand power tools would include:

  • If tool repair is required, ensure that it is carried out by a qualified technician
  • Avoid bypassing the on/off switch on a tool with the power source. Ensure that the tool is switched off before plugging in.
  • Where possible, use clamps or a vice to hold and support the piece being worked on. This will allow you to use both hands for better control of the tool and will help prevent injuries if a tool jams or binds.
  • Always follow good housekeeping procedures and keep your work area free of clutter and debris that could be pose a tripping hazard
  • Ensure that cutting tools, drill bits, etc. are kept sharp, clean and well maintained
  • Store tools in a dry, secure location when they are not being used
  • Do not wear gloves, loose clothing or jewelry while using revolving power tools. Also tie back long hair or wear appropriate protection.
  • Disconnect tools from the power source before making adjustments. Be sure to remove any adjustment tools before powering up again.
  • Never leave a running tool unattended. Be sure that it has stopped running completely before setting it down and do not leave it until the power has been turned off.
  • Do not operate power tools in an area containing explosive vapour or gas
  • Create a Safe Zone around you (4 ft. minimum) when operating any power tool
  • Do not surprise or unexpectantly touch anyone who is operating a tool. Startling a tool operator could end up causing an accident or injury.

Power hand tools offer many advantages in most industrial and building trades. They do however, need to be handled with respect and skill to create a consistently safe work environment.

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