Tool Safety and Liability

Most employers expect the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards to require them to ensure hand and power tools are in safe working order and that employees know how to use them. The shock is that employers are responsible for all tools, whether an employee brings his or her own tools to work or not.

To avoid accidents and comply, electrical contractors should establish a tool inspection program. Employees should inspect tools daily. Supervisors should inspect tools periodically. Any inferior-quality or damaged tools should be destroyed or tagged “Do Not Use” until they are required by a qualified individual. Ensure that all new tools meet the appropriate standards, such as American National Standards Institute (ANSI) specifications. Do not allow employees to use their own tools unless the supervisor has approved them.

When identifying tools for inspection, don’t forget to include both hand and hand-held power tools. Hand tools include wrenches, hammers, wire-strippers, utility knives, pliers and screwdrivers. Hand-held power tools and the precautions needed can be grouped by their power source: electrical, liquid powered, pneumatic and powder actuated.

Common injuries caused by hand tools are punctures, impact and cuts. Many of these injuries occur because tools are misused or poorly maintained. Make sure tools are used only for the job for which they were designed. Be sure that tools are sharp. Dull knives, chisels, shears or scissors are more dangerous than sharp tools; rounded screwdrivers can slip.

Ensure that handles fit tightly and are free of splinters or cracks. The head of a hammer can become a dangerous missile. Broken or shattered handles can strike other workers or even the user when pressure is applied in a particular direction. Check tools for excess wear. Worn pliers jaws can cause slipping.

Each power tool presents its own particular hazard based on its intended use and power source. However, all require the same basic precautions. Never pull on the cord or hose. Keep hoses and cords clear of heat, sharp edges and oils. Keep fingers away from the start buttons when not using the tool. Disconnect tools when not in use and during inspection or servicing.

Moving parts on machines and tools create hazards. Learn to recognize hazardous motions and actions. Hazardous motions can be rotating, reciprocating or transverse. Hazardous actions include cutting, punching shearing and bending. Do not use tools without proper guards.

All power tools must have the appropriate safety switch. Power tools with wheels or blades larger than 2 inches in diameter must have a momentary on/off switch. When the finger is released, the power is off. Jigsaws or other similar tools with blades of ¼-inch or greater must also use a momentary on/off switch. Tools with smaller blades or wheels may have a positive on/off switch.

Electric power tool precautions include ways to avoid the hazard of electricity. Use a three-wire cord and be sure the receptacle is grounded. Use double-insulated or low-voltage powered equipment. Use ground-fault circuit protection in damp areas. Replace frayed, exposed or old wiring.

Liquid-fuel power tools use flammables as a power source. Special precautions focus on preventing ignition and avoiding fumes. Store, transport and handle fuels in approved flammable containers. Make sure equipment is grounded when transferring fuels. Never refuel a tool while it is running or warm. First, turn the tool off and allow it to cool. Use liquid-fuel power tools only in a well-ventilated area or use respiratory equipment.

When using pneumatic tools, avoid air-pressure-related hazards. Even 12 pounds per square inch (psi) of compressed air can pop an eyeball from its socket. The greatest number of injuries result from shooting attachments or fasteners from the tool. Pneumatic fasteners, such as staplers that use more than 100 psi, must prevent the release of the fastener until contact has been made with the working surface. Air hoses must be connected to the tool with a short wire or positive locking device. Screens must be used to protect fellow workers from fragments. Never use compressed air to clean dust from your body or point a compressed air hose or tool at anyone.

A powder-actuated tool is like a gun. Any employee assigned one must have special training, which manufacturers generally provide.

Regardless of the tool being used, the manufacturer should be your reference. All tool instructions should be available as needed. Appropriate personal protective equipment must be worn. Goggles and safety glasses can prevent eye injury from flying fragments from the work or even broken tool parts.

Proper gloves can prevent hand injuries. If the noise from power tools exceeds OSHA limits, then hearing protection is required. EC

O’CONNOR is with Intec, a producer of safety manuals with training videos and software for contractors. Based in Alexandria, Va., he can be reached at 703.628.4326, or by e-mail at

About the Author

Joe O'Connor

Freelance Writer
Joe 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@inte...

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