Construction workers face numerous and varied job-site dangers, depending on the type of work they do. In addition to risks common to most construction jobs, electricians face the hazard of electric shock and other dangers associated with live power.
“Tools are an essential part of most tasks that electrical workers perform,” said Palmer Hickman, director of code and safety training and curriculum development, the National Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee (NJATC). “Therefore, it is critically important that all tools be used safely so that the tool used does not become the cause of an injury or fatality. This begins with following all of the instructions and recommendations of the manufacturer of the tool, along with the use of ground-fault protection and personal protective equipment, as necessary.”
While users are highly aware of the risks of operating power tools, Hickman pointed out that manual tools also pose risks.
“Knives, of all types, continue to be a common cause of injury,” he said. “Safety professionals report that some contractors have gone as far as banning their use. The industry has attempted to reduce these injuries through the use of cut-resistant materials used in gloves and a shift to manual and battery-powered tools designed specifically for stripping of conductors. As always, training also helps to reduce cut injuries.”
Drills, hammer drills and grinding wheels continue to be among the power tools associated with injuries.
“Proper body positioning, proper planning and use are important,” Hickman said. “Ensuring that guards and handles are in place and wearing necessary personal protective equipment (PPE) all go a long way toward minimizing the hazards associated with the use of power tools.”
While immediate risks of injuries may be obvious, Hickman added that there are risks associated with using specific tools that may not always be considered.
“Silica hazards are associated with stone, brick and concrete-block cutting, blasting, chipping, grinding and sawing,” Hickman said. “Hearing loss is associated with many common power tools used in construction. There are ergonomic hazards associated with the use of many commonly used tools and commonly performed tasks. Common examples of ergonomic risk factors are found in jobs requiring repetitive, forceful or prolonged exertions of the hands; frequent or heavy lifting, pushing, pulling or carrying of heavy objects; and prolonged awkward postures. The potential for shock, arc flash and arc blast hazards are associated with energized electrical work. Personal protective equipment, such as rubber insulating gloves with leather protectors and arc-rated clothing, are among the last lines of defense against the hazards of shock and arc flash respectively.”
The National Joint Apprenticeship Training Committee (NJATC) curriculum and training introduces tools and tool use with introductory lessons, boot camp lessons and electrical industry application manuals; it promotes hazard awareness and recognition through OSHA 10- and 30-hour course materials, and it introduces industry-specific curriculum and training for electrical workers through core and advanced curriculum.
“It is vital,” Hickman said, “to use the proper tool for the job and to use the tool as designed and intended.”
Representatives of three primary suppliers of tools for the electrical industry comment on tool safety from the perspectives of their companies’ product lines.
Manual hand tools
Russ Goldmann, Klein Tools’ director of product design and development, said: “Any tool has inherent risks if not used properly. Using a tool for any purpose which it was not designed or intended to perform risks personal injury and damage to the work or tool. Utilizing pliers as a hammer or treating a screwdriver as a chisel will cause irreparable damage. Furthermore, uninsulated tools should never be used on live circuits. Tools are engineered for certain tasks, and when the user goes beyond the scope of this, it creates a potential hazard.
“Each tool requires a proper understanding of its function and the correct way to use it. Klein includes warnings on all packages with both symbols and text. We highly recommend that the user take the time to read the warnings to help prevent accidents and encourage product safety.
“Some tools are designed with specific safety features such as nonconductive fish tape with eyelet tip added to protect against shock from energized sources. Other examples include cutting tools with retractable blades or tool handles with plastic flock to prevent slippage. When working with energized sources with voltage up to 1,000 volts [V], Klein recommends insulated tools for added protection against electric shock. Tools marked with the official international 1,000V rating symbol comply with the ASTM F1505 and IEC 60900 standards for insulated tools.
“Tools must be maintained in good working order. Products that are bent, chipped, have bent or cracked parts or a ‘mushroomed’ head, they pose potential hazards that can cause serious accidents,” Goldmann said.
John Fee, Greenlee senior product manager, said: “Within the manual hand tool category, we see that pliers and wire strippers pose the highest risks of injury.
“For pliers, wrist injury can occur from repetition and from vibration through the handle when cutting through large nails, screws, etc. To help reduce this risk, tool designs have changed through metallurgy (tempered handles help absorb vibration), ergonomic designs, and [by] changing the rivet positions to provide high leverage. High-leverage pliers reduce the force needed for cutting hardened products by up to 36 percent. When using pliers, there is a risk of eye injury when cutting through nails, screws and other hardened products. The solution is for users to wear safety glasses.
“When using wire strippers and pliers, there is the risk of cutting into wire that is energized. We advise using a noncontact voltage detector to check wire to ensure it’s de-energized before working.
“Power-assisted tools can increase the potential of eye injury when cutting through hardened products. These tools increase the likelihood the user will exceed the capacity and capability of the tools and risk additional injury.
“Tool designs in ergonomics, high leverage/compound leverage, and 1,000V insulated grips help make tools safer to use,” Fee said.
Jason Feldner, Bosch Tools’ cordless power tool product manager, said: “No matter which power tool is being used—whether it is corded or cordless, handheld or stationary, saw or drill—and no matter what the job site or location, there are basic safety tips that apply.”
Feldner offered the following tips for working safety with power tools.
• Read the instruction manual. Most complaints sent to power tool manufacturers are from people who don’t read tool instructions. Every tool comes with operating and safety instructions. Guessing and power tools don’t mix. Users who have misplaced instructions can access manuals on most manufacturers’ websites or request a new copy. Managers of a shop or tool crib can create binders with sleeves to organize every tool manual for easy access.
• Wear proper protective clothing. Never wear loose or baggy clothing or jewelry, and tie up long hair while working. Any of these items easily can catch in a power tool’s moving parts and possibly drag the user toward any cutting element or edge. Wearing approved safety goggles and ear protection is mandatory. Anyone who ever received an eye or hearing injury wishes, in hindsight, they had taken the few seconds necessary to don eye and hearing protection.
• Work in a safe environment. Work sites should be free of hazards, [and be] dry and well-lighted. Avoid clutter and distractions.
• Mind all power cords. Prior to operating any corded tool, check that all electrical cords, including the one attached to the tool, are free of kinks, frays or exposed wires. Use the correct length of extension cord designated in the instruction manual. Whenever possible, use a ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI), which is specifically designed to overcome any potential current leakage issues and protect a tool user from shock.
• Examine the tool. Before plugging in a tool or activating a cordless model, be sure guards operate smoothly and quickly, switches function properly, and accessories are tightened in place. If any components are missing, replace them immediately. Do not operate a tool without a properly functioning guard, unless otherwise advised in the manual for particular applications.
• Choose the right accessory. Always select the right accessory for the job. If a blade is wrong for the material, is the incorrect width, or is dull, and if a bit is incorrect for material drilled or it is stripped or worn, the blade or bit can create hazardous situations, including binding or kickback.
• Maintain correct body positioning. When operating a tool, the operator should be balanced by footing and body position. Never overreach. Use the tool at a comfortable working level. Working above the head or below the waist can cause loss of strength and leverage with the tool. Working in awkward positions slows reaction time in the event of kickback or a binding bit.
• Use proper hand positioning and side assist handles. Manufacturers place side assist handles and secondary grip handles on tools to provide optimal control because bits sometimes bind and blades can kickback. Using extra handles can help avoid injury. It may seem obvious, but hands never should be placed near blades and the moving parts of any power tool. When any tool is activated, especially saws, hand positioning must be in designated safe or control areas.
• Finally, pay attention. When operating any tool, 100 percent of the operator’s attention must be on the work. Reacting to trouble is possible only if the tool user knows something is happening. Experienced electricians routinely perform many different tasks, many of them repetitive. Inattention often is blamed for many work accidents.
Testing equipment is a basic tool category for electricians but is beyond the scope of this article—a separate report will cover tester safety. However, it is important to know that some testers pose serious safety risks if improperly used.
Klein insulated tools have a tough, high-dielectric white inner coating bonded to the tool with flame-retardant, impact-resistant orange outer coating.
For demo work, the proper accessory and protective equipment are necessary. Pictured is the Bosch RHH181-01 SDS-pls rotary hammer.
Klein Tools’ demolition driver is designed and recommended for tough demo work.