Tools are an absolute necessity in our industry. They can also be the source of dire consequences if used improperly or for the wrong job. However, there are resources and safeguards that can be used to prevent accidents from occurring.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has a number of standards addressing the safe use of tools on a job site.
OSHA General Industry Standard 1910.242(a):
Each employer shall be responsible for the safe condition of tools and equipment used by employees, including tools and equipment which may be furnished by employees.
All tools are subject to inspection at any and all times. Supervisors have the authority to prohibit any tool deemed unfit, regardless of whether the worker or the employer owns it. All damaged or unsafe tools must be tagged and removed from service.
OSHA Construction Standard 1926.301(a):
Employers shall not issue or permit the use of unsafe hand tools.
Handheld tools can be valuable for achieving a wide variety of tasks. However, it is important that workers know how to select and safely use these tools. Tools should only be used if they are approved by the company. It is never safe to modify any kind of tool for any purpose other than the intended use by the manufacturer.
OSHA Standard 1926.301(b):
Wrenches, including adjustable, pipe, end, and socket wrenches, shall not be used when jaws are sprung to the point that slippage occurs.
Workers should not use a wrench if it has damaged jaws or use shims to make a wrench fit. Additionally, workers should never use lengths of pipe or any other modification to extend the handle of a wrench. Warped and/or rusted wrenches can result in slipping or breaking, resulting in significant injury.
OSHA Standard 1926.301(c):
Impact tools, such as drift pins, wedges and chisels, shall be kept free of mushroomed heads.
These tools, as well as hammers and punches, should be removed from service if they exhibit such conditions. Pieces can chip off of mushroomed or cracked tools and become airborne. These may create potential struck-by hazards. Damaged tools can only be used again if they are repaired by a qualified professional.
OSHA Standard 1926.301(d):
The wooden handles of tools shall be kept free of splinters or cracks and shall be kept tight in the tool.
Before using any tools that have wooden handles, workers should inspect for the aforementioned conditions, as well as any sharp edges. It is also imperative to make sure that any axe, hammer or similar tool head is not loose. This will help ensure that it will not fly off and result in an injury.
General tool safety
It is also important to make sure that tools do not have paint, grease or dirt on the handles. These conditions can create additional hazards. Ensure that bladed tools, such as saws, knives or scissors are sharp. As any chef knows, dull tools can actually be more hazardous than sharp ones. Spades, shovels and other long-handled tools should only be used when they are in good working order.
Workers should never use metal tools such as hammers, tape measures or screwdrivers near energized circuits. Electric tools must be double-insulated or have a three-pronged plug. It is never safe to remove the third prong from a grounded plug. All tools must be adequately insulated when working near energized components.
Additionally, workers should avoid using electric tools near flammable or combustible objects. When working in this environment, tools should be composed of nonferrous material. Iron and/or steel tools have the potential to create sparks that can act as an ignition source in the presence of flammable substances.
Linemen and wiremen may be required to use live line tools. Prior to using these tools, workers need to make sure that they are clean and dry. If any defect is discovered, the tool should be tagged and removed from service.
Workers should not use live line tools on lines of No. 6 copper, No. 6 ACSR, No. 8A copper-weld or smaller, unless continuity of service is absolutely necessary. In the event that live line work is deemed necessary, the appropriate authorization must be granted before work can begin.
When working on energized lines or conductors, linemen and wiremen should only use clean and dry synthetic ropes of 5 kilovolts or higher. They should also make sure to use link sticks between energized lines or conductors on all voltages.
Finally, workers must be properly trained and regularly briefed on how to safely select and use the tools they need for the job. Awareness, understanding and overall safety culture are among the most effective means for preventing workplace injuries and incidents.