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Power Tool Safety Guidelines

Most people are first exposed to portable power tools at an early age, watching as others use the tool before being called upon to help with projects. Safety and training is often secondary or nonexistent for these first-time tool users. Often, safety teaching moments occur only after incurring a near accident or bodily injury.

Some new employees may not have previously used the tool(s) that are required to perform their job. It is a good idea to ask new employees about their experience with each tool they will use. If there is any doubt regarding their ability to use them safely, training should be conducted.

How to Safely Operate Power Tools

Power tools can be dangerous when misused. By following the proper safety measures below, you can significantly reduce the chance of an accident.

  • Use the proper tool for the job. Follow the manufacturer's recommended usage.
  • Keep the tools in good operating condition and never use a tool in poor condition. The operator should inspect the tool prior to each use.
  • If a central tool crib exists within the organization, the attendant should inspect each tool as it is returned. Any tool in poor condition must be repaired or replaced. The tool crib attendant should also inspect a new tool when it is received from a vendor. A proper inspection includes checking for loose fasteners and the overall condition of the tool as it may have been damaged during the shipping process.
  • Do not remove, reposition or tamper with safety guards provided by the manufacturer. Guards should only be removed to clean, repair or replace component parts. When the guard is removed for those reasons, disconnect the power source first.
  • Keep tools in a safe and proper place. Tools and power cords should not be left on the floor where they present a trip hazard. Tools used in overhead areas should have a safety line attached to prevent them from falling on people below.
  • Never leave a power tool unattended in a place where unauthorized people could attempt to operate it. Only trained operators should use power tools.
  • Store tools in a dry place when not in use.
  • Do not use electric tools in damp or wet locations unless it is properly grounded.
  • Never carry a tool by the cord or hose.
  • Never yank the cord or hose 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 blades, bits and cutters.
  • Keep all other workers and the pubic at a safe distance from the work area.
  • Secure work with clamps or a vise so both hands are free to operate the tool.
  • Avoid accidental starting. Keep your fingers away from the switch button while carrying a plugged-in tool.
  • Maintain tools with care. Follow instructions in the user's manual for lubricating and changing accessories.
  • Be sure to maintain solid footing and good balance when using tools.
  • Remove all damaged portable electric tools from use and tag them "Do Not Use."
  • Do not operate equipment with damaged cords.
  • Wear the proper personal protective equipment (PPE).
Personal Protective EquipmentWork Condition
Safey GogglesAnytime a particle could fall or fly into eyes
Face ShieldsUsing grinders, buffing wheels, etc.
Safety ShoesWhenever using power tools
Hearing ProtectionUsing rotary cutting tolls, jackhammers, etc.
Hair RestraintUsing rotary tools such as drills, saws, grinders, etc.
DO NOT wear gloves, ties or loose clothing or jewelryUsing rotary tools such as drills, saws, grinders, etc.

Power Tool Electrical Hazards

Electrocution, burns and slight shocks, which can lead to injuries or even heart failure, are among the major hazards associated with electric power tools. Under certain conditions, even a small amount of current can result in fibrillation of the heart and eventual death. A shock also can cause the user to fall off a ladder or other elevated work surface.

Preventing Shock When Using Power Tools

To protect the user from shock, tools should have a three-wire cord with ground and be grounded, or the cord should be double insulated. Three-wire cords contain two current-carrying conductors and a grounding conductor. One end of the grounding conductor connects to the tool's metal housing. The other end is grounded through a prong on the plug.

Anytime an adapter is used to accommodate a two-hole receptacle, the adapter wire should be attached to a known ground. The third prong should never be removed from the plug. Double insulation is the more convenient of the two methods. The user and the tools are protected in two ways: by normal insulation on the wires inside and by a housing that cannot conduct electricity to the operator in the event of a malfunction.

Power Tools and Ground-Fault Circuit-Interrupters (GFCI)

To protect against electrical shock hazards, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends the use of a ground-fault circuit-interrupter (GFCI) with every power tool. A GFCI constantly monitors current flowing into a circuit to sense any loss of current. If the current flowing through two circuit conductors differs by a very small amount, the GFCI instantly interrupts the current flow to prevent a lethal amount of electricity from reaching the operator.

The operator may feel a painful shock but will not be electrocuted. Most of the 20-30 electrocution deaths each year associated with power drills, saws, sanders, hedge trimmers and other electric power tools could have been prevented if a GFCI had been used.

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