Law enforcement recruits are taught to identify and protect themselves from edged weapons, and interestingly enough, the most common edged weapon used in a homicide isn't a knife-it is a screwdriver. Knowing this, consider the number of times a screwdriver is used by an electrical contractor to perform daily tasks. Too often, little thought is given to the serious, life-threatening accidents that can occur through the use of hand and power tools. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) holds employers responsible for the safety of tools whether owned by the employee or employer. Employers must provide appropriate training and hold employees responsible for proper, safe maintenance and use of all tools.

Most potential hazards associated with hand and power tools can be avoided by following five common-sense rules:

°Keep tools in good condition with regular maintenance.

°Use the right tool for the right job.

°Do not use a damaged tool.

°Follow the manufacturers' instructions.

°Always wear the correct personal protective equipment.

Hand tools

Hand tools are any tools without power, including wrenches, hammers, axes, knives and screwdrivers. The most common hazard associated with hand tools derives from misuse and improper maintenance. Common injuries caused by hand tools are punctures, impact and cuts. Keep tools sharp-dull tools are more dangerous than sharp ones.

Make sure tools with wooden handles are not splintered. This ensures that the head of a hammer or axe will remain in place and not fall of.

Iron or steel hand tools can present an ignition hazard by producing sparks when used near flammable substances. This hazard can be minimized by using tools made of spark-resistant materials like plastic, brass, aluminum or wood.

Power tools

There are many types of power tools. Type is determined by the power source: electric, pneumatic, liquid fuel, hydraulic and powder-actuated. Each type of power tool comes with its own set of hazards and precautions. Most of the precautions involve common sense and basic safety procedures such as regular inspection and maintenance, as well as the following:

°Never carry a tool by the cord or hose.

°Never disconnect a tool by yanking on the hose or cord.

°Keep cords and hoses away from heat, oil and sharp edges.

°Secure work with a vise or clamp, allowing both hands to operate the tool.

°Remove damaged tools from operation and tag them: “Do Not Use.”

Electric tools

Those using electric tools should be aware of the potential for electrical burns, shock and fall hazards. A large electrical shock can cause heart failure. Electric tools must be equipped with a three-wire (grounded) or double-insulated cord. Use electric tools in well-lit, dry areas and follow the manufacturers' recommendations.

Pneumatic tools

Pneumatic tools are powered by compressed air. The main danger presented by pneumatic tools stems from the power source itself. The air pressure can cause the tool's attachments, debris or other particles to fly off and cause injury.

In addition, the power source used can generate dangerous noise levels. Because of this, it is imperative that workers be supplied with and use proper eye and ear protection.

Treat the air hose with care-just like the cord of an electric tool. Make sure to regularly inspect the tool to ensure that the hose is securely fastened. The air hose must be attached to the tool with a short wire or locking device to keep the hose in place during use. Also, never point a compressed air hose or tool at anyone.

Liquid fuel tools

Liquid-fuel powered tools are typically operated by gasoline, which comes with very serious hazards, the biggest being fuel vapors. If ignition occurs, possible damage includes dangerous fumes, burns and explosions.

Workers must be trained in the proper use and handling of flammable liquids including transportation and storage. Before a worker refills a fuel-powered tool, the engine must be shut down and allowed to cool. When using a fuel-powered tool in a closed area, proper ventilation is important. Make sure fire extinguishers are available in accordance with OSHA regulations and local codes.

Regardless of the power source used by a tool, there are hazards and dangers involved. These can be minimized by inspection, maintenance and common sense. No matter what the power source, any tool that is found to be damaged or defective must immediately be flagged and taken out of service. EC

O’CONNOR is with Intec, a safety consulting, training and publishing firm that offers on-site assistance and produces manuals, training videos and software for contractors. Based in Waverly, Pa., he can be reached at 607.624.7159 or joconnor@intecweb.com.