At the mention of industrial accidents, people typically envision large-scale machinery and mangled limbs. While industrial equipment poses dramatic risks, some of the most common workplace injuries involve hand tools and their use, or misuse. Practically every industry uses hand tools to some extent, so any solid OHS (Occupational Health and Safety) program includes training for hand tool safety.
The major risks associated with hand tools are punctures and lacerations, repetitive stress and blunt trauma. For a helpful breakdown of workplace hazards and their impacts, the US Bureau of Labor and Statistics has an online tool that compiles Occupational Injuries/Illnesses and Fatal Injuries Profiles.
The following hand tool safety information is a refresher for seasoned workers looking to enhance their personal safety strategies. It's also a guide for OHS professionals developing training materials, safety presentations or workplace safety rules.
Hand Tool Safety Tips: Before You Start
Use the Right Tool
A chisel or utility knife used as a screwdriver is just asking for trouble. If you're a worker, and you don't know which tool to use, ask. If you're a trainer or supervisor, make sure this information is clear to your employees.
Personal Protective Equipment includes gloves, goggles and face visors. Always make sure they're in good condition and fit properly.
Make a Clean Start
Making sure your hands are dry is a basic accident prevention and safety measure. Grease, oil and water make for a slippery and dangerous grip.
The Tool Itself
All Present and Correct
Be sure the tool is in good working condition. If it's meant to be sharp, make sure it is. Don't forget to check the handle. Splinters or structural weaknesses can cause trouble.
Tag and Bag
If you come across a broken tool, label it for replacement immediately. Closely related to this is...
You're Not MacGyver
Don't try to make temporary or makeshift repairs to a tool just to get through the day. Your safety at work is more important than the five minutes it takes to replace a bad tool with a working tool.
If possible, use ergonomic tools and always keep an eye out for new ergonomic designs that increase hand tool safety.
Hand Tool Safety Tips While You Work
Move the tool away from your body as you work so that any slip won't catch you by surprise.
Sharing is Caring
But only if you know how to share nicely. Never throw a tool. Always pass it with the sharp or dangerous edge facing away from you and your buddy.
Hold Me Now
Hold your tools by the handle, never the working section and try to keep your wrists straight while you're working. This cuts down on pesky and difficult-to-treat repetitive strain injuries.
Keep it Clean
If your task creates debris such as shards, shavings or sawdust, clean the debris away properly with a vacuum or specialized safety equipment, not your bare hands.
Carry and Store
Most hand tools come with holsters or cases for safe transport and storage. Use them. And never carry a blade in your pocket.
When you're working at a height, there's always a danger that an otherwise benign tool will fall and hurt a coworker below. Secure your tools properly when you're up on scaffolding or ladders, and raise or lower them with buckets and hand lines so your hands are free to focus on getting you up and down safely.