Power Tool Safety: Essential Practices for Optimal Workplace Protection
By paying attention to critical issues, managers and technicians can ensure safe tool use and department productivity
Power tools are essential workhorses for maintenance and engineering departments, but this central role comes with a price: the need to be ever vigilant about safety. Front-line technicians must use power tools properly and follow instructions to avoid potential safety hazards.
While most power tools are not complicated to operate, technicians must follow basic safety practices, and the tools must be kept in proper operating condition to protect tool users. By paying attention to critical issues, managers and technicians can ensure safe tool use and department productivity.
Before work starts
Start with a safe work area, which should be clean and well lit. Cluttered benches and dark areas invite accidents. Do not operate power tools in explosive atmospheres or near flammable liquids, gases or dust. Power tools create sparks that can ignite dust or fumes. Keep bystanders, children and visitors at a safe distance when using a power tool because distractions can cause risks.
Good personal safety also is essential. Always read and understand the operator’s manual, tool markings and the instructions packaged with any accessories before starting work. Stay alert, watch the work area, and use common sense when using a power tool.
Electricity can be dangerous. Grounded tools must be plugged into a properly grounded outlet. Never remove or cut off the grounding prong or modify the plug in any way, and do not use adapter plugs.
Another vital safety measure is for users to employ safety equipment and appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE). Technicians should always wear eye protection. When needed, they also should wear a dust mask, hard hat, non-skid safety shoes, gloves and hearing protection.
Regarding safety goggles or safety glasses, always refer to the tool’s instruction manual for the specific eye protection recommended. The eyewear chosen should be marked as complying with current national standards.
Keeping it running
Effective maintenance keeps power tools working safely and effectively. Inspect the tool before using it. Are moving parts misaligned or binding? Is anything broken? Damaged tools must be repaired before use.
Develop a maintenance schedule for tools, and maintain tools and accessories carefully. Keep blades and bits sharp and clean. Take tools to be serviced to qualified repair people. Service or maintenance performed by unqualified personnel could result in injury.
Follow instructions regarding maintenance in the tool’s instruction manual. Using unauthorized parts or failing to follow maintenance instructions can create a risk of electric shock or injury.
Clean and lubricate a tool only as directed in its instruction manuals. Certain cleaning agents — including gasoline, carbon tetrachloride and ammonia — can damage plastic tool parts.
All the above guidelines apply to corded and cordless power tools, but some rules apply only to cordless tools, which get their electrical power from batteries. Technicians should give cordless tools the same respect that corded tools demand because cordless tools also can cause injury if technicians do not follow safety precautions. Cordless tools come in many types, so technicians need to read and understand the section of the operator’s manual for the cordless tool they are using.
It is critical to choose the right battery pack for the cordless tool and use only the battery packs recommended by the tool manufacturer. Other battery packs can create a risk of fire, burns and explosions.
Charge battery packs safely, only with their recommended chargers, in a dry location. Do not charge near combustible materials. Do not use a charger or battery pack if it has been hit, dropped or damaged, and do not take apart the charger or battery pack. Instead, take it to an authorized service center for repairs. Keep tools, battery packs and chargers out of the reach of people who are unfamiliar with the tools.
Susan Orenga is the executive manager of the Power Tool Institute, a trade organization whose members represent market-leading brands of portable and stationary power tools.