Power tools are found on virtually all construction sites and in most homes. They can make construction work quicker, and require less physical effort from the operator.
However, with the benefits they bring also comes risk. Power tools are powerful, and when mistakes or accidents happen, they can be serious. Power tools are involved in a number of accidents and fires each year, so it is important to consider the safe use of power tools before you start work.
The safe use of power tools is covered under the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations (PUWER), and as such employers have a legal duty to comply with these regulations when using power tools and other equipment within their organisation.
Power tools present hazards such as noise, vibration, electrical, moving parts and projectiles. They have the power to cause severe and even fatal injury if used incorrectly.
Here's a quick rundown of some of the things to consider for the safe use of power tools:
The tool should be suitable for the job. Using the wrong tool for a task can create mechanical and electrical stress that causes the equipment to become unsafe.
Select the correct tool for the job. The right tool will get the job done quicker and at less risk.
Check the power tool for faults before use and do not use a tool that has any defects such as damage to the casing or faulty switches. Check that the outer cover of the equipment is not damaged in a way that will give rise to electrical or mechanical hazards.
Keep your tool maintained and tested in accordance with manufacturer’s instructions. Regular visual checks by the user and more formal inspections should be in place. This will help identify problems with tools before they become unsafe.
Accessories used with tools for example blades, discs and drill bits can burst and break if they are not up to the job.
The right accessories should be used, not only for the tool but also for what you are doing with the tool. If you are cutting concrete, you need to use a blade or disc designed for cutting concrete, and not one for a softer material like wood.
Using the wrong accessory can cause accidents by bursting or shattering, and by increased dust or projectile output. It can also increase vibration and noise levels harming the health of the user.
Use the correct accessories and tool bits, as intended for the particular power tool. Keep accessories and tool bits in good condition, cutting tools should be sharp and clean.
Hazards in the environment can include dust, fumes, gases, water, light and other restrictions.
Power tools should not be operated in explosive atmospheres as sparks may ignite dust or fumes. Checking the atmosphere, especially when using power tools in a confined space, may be necessary if there is any doubt.
Water entering a power tool will increase the risk of electric shocks and therefore should be kept out of the rain or wet conditions.
You need to be able to see what you are doing. Poor lighting or uncomfortable conditions will increase the risk of mistakes, entanglement or contact with rotating parts. Make sure you have enough light and ventilation to carry out the task safely.
Plugs and cables carry electricity to your tool and are exposed to the elements so can easily get damaged.
Cables trail along surfaces, while covered in a protective coating, they are still one of the most vulnerable parts of your tool. Dragging cables along the ground can easily cause damage. Contact with sharp edges, moving parts, heat, and being walked over can also damage the cable.
Over-flexing of cables can also damage both the cable and plug connection. Use the closest available socket, and use extension cables if required.
Your power tool plug must match the outlet. Modifying plugs will increase the risk of electric shocks. Formal inspections should include checking plugs for signs of internal damage, overheating or water damage, and ensuring the plug is wired correctly with a suitable fuse.
Users should visually check plugs and cables before use. Make sure connections and covers are intact, and internal wires are not exposed. Keep your cable and plugs protected in storage and use, and position away from hazards that could cause damage. Damaged cables or plugs should be replaced by a competent person.
Battery operated equipment is generally considered safer than mains powered, but must still be used correctly.
Recharge your battery only with the charger supplied by the manufacturer to avoid the risk of fire. Keep battery pack away from metal objects that could make a connection between battery terminals and short the battery. Under abusive conditions, the battery may eject a hazardous liquid. Avoid contact, battery liquid can cause irritation and burns.
One of the biggest hazards associated with power tools is electricity. Electricity can kill and even non-fatal shocks can cause severe and permanent injury.
We've mentioned this already in other sections, but visual checks are important when using any type of power tool or portable electrical equipment.
Simple visual checks can identify if an electrically powered tool has become unsafe. For example, scorching, burn marks and staining are all signs that equipment is overheating and should be taken out of use. Damage to casings, covers, cables, and plugs are also signs of a problem.
Raise awareness of electrical risks with the free electrical safety toolbox talk.
Human error can be a major cause of accidents, causing up to an estimated 80% of accidents at work.
It is estimated that up to 80% of accidents may be attributed, at least in part, to the actions or omissions of people.
Users of power tools need to pay attention and concentrate on the activity and safe use of the tool, do not use when tired or under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Power tools are (as the name suggests) powerful tools. A momentary lapse in concentration can result in serious injury. Take care not to overreach and keep proper footing to avoid losing control.
PPE is your last line of defence against harm. Hazards to the user include projectiles, contact, noise, vibration and entanglement.
Always wear appropriate PPE to protect you from the specific hazards presented by power tools, such as dust exposure and projectiles. PPE such as goggles, dust mask, gloves, hard hat, and safety boots should be worn where appropriate.
Depending on the noise levels involved, it may be necessary to wear hearing protection during your use of the tool.
Need help convincing your team why PPE is important? Here are 50 Reasons Why You Should Wear And Use PPE!
Remember, use the correct power tool for the task and take defective tools of use for replacement or repair. Good use of power tools will increase productivity and improve safety, poor use of power tools with increase risks and reduce productivity.
Need help? Use the power tools risk assessment template to get your paperwork in place and give your team the information they need.