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Tools, both hand and power, are found at every job site regardless of the trade. While tools are a craftsman’s friends, they bring hazards. The same tool that makes a job easier also can be the cause of an accident. The best way to prevent these accidents is to use tools carefully and keep them in safe operating condition.
The Power Tool Institute reminds us that “the demands of safety apply to all.” This includes the do-it-yourselfer, the apprentice and the master craftsman.
Presented here are some basic safety facts that everyone in construction should already know. However, it never hurts to review common-sense safety practices. Take this true/false quiz to see how many of these practices you remember and, more importantly, apply on the job.
When a chisel is unavailable at a job site, a screwdriver can be used.
FALSE: Never use any tool for a task the tool is not designed for. This includes power tools. Using a screwdriver as a chisel could cause the tip to break off and fly away. This sharp projectile could easily injure the user or another employee.
If the wooden handle of a hammer is loose, tape the head on, and use the hammer.
FALSE: Although this tool is being used correctly, it is damaged and should be removed from the job site. The head of the hammer has been “secured.” However, the head is more likely to break free during use and injure someone.
While working around a flammable substance, nonsparking tools should be used.
TRUE: Traditional materials, such as steel and iron, can produce sparks under normal conditions. When used around a flammable substance, a tiny spark could be enough to ignite a dangerous fire. When working around a flammable substance, tools made of brass, plastic, aluminum or a copper alloy (which is nonsparking) should be used.
Gloves must always be used when using power tools.
FALSE: Although certain PPE, such as goggles and face shields, are appropriate for power tool work, gloves are somewhat optional. When using certain power tools, wearing gloves can be more of a hazard. It is best to read the owner/operator manual for each tool to check on the need for gloves.
It’s not necessary to read the manual for a power tool if you are just replacing a defective tool or an older model.
FALSE: Always read and understand the owner’s manual of any new tool, even if it is just a newer or upgraded model of a previously owned tool. The defective tool may have been used for years, but a new model may have slight changes that could make operating it without reading the manual dangerous.
It’s fine to use power tools after you have consumed alcohol.
FALSE: It is never all right to operate power tools under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
It’s a good idea to conscientiously repair and maintain power tools in accordance with the manufacturers’ recommendations.
TRUE: All tools should be inspected at least at the beginning of each work day. They should be periodically cleaned and tuned up to keep them working at peak performance. Cutting edges should be kept clean and sharp. A sharp tool is much less of a risk than a dull one. A well-maintained power tool is a safer power tool.
A tool’s cord should never be pulled to disconnect the tool, used to carry the tool or used around heat, oil or sharp edges.
TRUE: Pulling a tool’s cord or carrying a tool by the cord could loosen the connections, weakening the integrity of the electrical system and increasing the risk of an electrical hazard. Heat, oil and sharp edges also pose a threat to the insulating ability of the plastic or rubber coating of the cord. If the coating is cut or worn enough, it can cause a severe shock to the operator or cause the tool to short out.
Keeping tools plugged in when they are not in use or when changing blades, bits, cutters and the like can be a real time saver.
FALSE: Although not having to unplug tools after each use may save some time, it also can increase the likelihood of an accident. Tools should be disconnected from the power source when not in use. This helps to prevent the danger of an accidental starting. Removing the power source before repairing a tool can eliminate the possibility of getting shocked.
A tool with a faulty switch is fine to use if you can figure out a way to circumvent the switch.
FALSE: A tool should never be used with a switch that isn’t functioning properly. Once the switch is discovered to be malfunctioning, it should be removed from use until it has been repaired or replaced. A faulty switch may indicate there is something much more seriously wrong with the tool.
Although none of these questions should strain any brains, one cannot overstate these safe practices. Very often, simple safety ideas can save a life, or at least make a job site a little bit safer. We too often lose track of basics while looking for the next big answer to our safety issues. Sometimes, we can keep workers safe with simple answers.
KELLY is a safety and health specialist with Intec, a safety consulting, training and publishing firm that offers on-site assistance and produces manuals, training videos and software for contractors. She can be reached at 800.745.4818 or [email protected]. Joe O’Connor edited this article.