21st July, 2022

Safe Use Of Power Tools (And The Hazards To Watch Out For)

Power tools make work quicker and require less physical effort from the user. However, with these benefits also comes risk. Power tools are powerful, and when accidents happen, they can cause serious injuries. Here's a rundown of things to consider for the safe use of power tools.

Safe Use Of Power Tools (And The Hazards To Watch Out For) header image

Power tools are found on virtually all construction sites and in most homes. They make work easier and quicker. You could spend hours sanding down a worktop by hand. Or you could use an electric sander and be done in minutes. It's so much less effort!

However, with these benefits also comes risk.

As the name suggests, power tools are powerful.

A circular saw can quickly cut through wood or metal, and it can just as quickly cut through flesh and bone. Yikes!

Power tools create hazards such as noise, vibration, electrical, moving parts and projectiles. They have the power to cause severe and even fatal injury if used incorrectly.

When mistakes or accidents happen with power tools, they often cause serious injuries.

Power tools are involved in many accidents and fires each year. Before you start working with one, consider safe use so that you don't add to the injury statistics.

The safe use of power tools is covered under the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations (PUWER). Employers have a legal duty to comply with these regulations when using power tools and other equipment within their organisation.

Find out more about the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations in what PUWER stands for.

Here's a quick rundown of some of the things to consider for the safe use of power tools:

The Tool

The power tool you use 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.

Always select the correct tool for the job. The right tool will get the job done quicker. The wrong tool will create additional risks.

Check the power tool before use. Power tools get used in harsh environments and often do intensive tasks. They don't last forever.

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 following the manufacturer’s instructions. Tools that are well maintained will last longer and be safer to use.

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

Accessories used with tools for example blades, discs and drill bits can burst and break if they are not up to the job.

The accessories you choose should be compatible with the tool and what you are doing with it.

If you are cutting concrete, you need to use a blade or disc designed for cutting concrete, and not one for softer materials like wood.

angle grinder disc

Using the wrong accessory can cause accidents by bursting or shattering and increases dust or projectile output. It can also increase vibration and noise levels, harming the user's health.

Use the correct accessories and tool bits, as intended for the particular power tool.

Like the tool, you should also keep accessories and tool bits in good condition. Cutting tools should be sharp and clean, to reduce vibration and the risk of failure.

Before using a tool, make sure that suitable guards are fitted and secure to keep the user away from sharp and rotating parts.

The Environment

Hazards in the environment can include dust, fumes, gases, water, light and other restrictions.

When you use a power tool, you introduce some additional risks to the place you work. For example, power tools can create sparks, and use power supplies like fuel or electricity.

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.

sparks in confined space

And when you use a power tool outside or in a harsh environment, you can create additional hazards for the tool.

For example, water entering a power tool will increase the risk of electric shocks. Keep your tools (and the power supply) out of the rain or wet conditions, unless built for that purpose.

The environment can also create additional risks for the user. 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

Plugs and cables carry electricity to your tool and are exposed to the elements so can easily get damaged.

Cables trail along surfaces, and 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. A formal inspection 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.

power outlet with cable and plug

The Battery

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 the 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.

Electrical Safety

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.

Personal Safety

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 it 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

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. If you're not sure what PPE you need, check the risk assessment.

PPE isn't the only control measure you will need, but it will help to reduce any remaining or residual risks.

wearing ppe using angle grinder

PPE such as goggles, dust masks, gloves, hard hats, 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, always use the correct power tool for the task and take defective tools out of use for replacement or repair.

Good use of power tools will increase productivity and improve safety. Poor use of power tools will 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.

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This article was written by Emma at HASpod. Emma has over 10 years experience in health and safety and BSc (Hons) Construction Management. She is NEBOSH qualified and Tech IOSH.

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