Tools are a necessary requirement on most job sites, indoors and outdoors. However, hand tools, when used improperly or not kept in good condition, can also result in very serious injuries.
OSHA Construction Standard 1926.301(a) Employers shall not issue or permit the use of unsafe hand tools.
Hand tool safety and awareness is a great toolbox talk or safety meeting topic. Reminders, like those found in this article, should be provided to employees who use hand tools during a safety meeting, annual safety training, or a safety huddle at the job site.
OSHA General Industry Standard 1910.242(a) Each employer shall be responsible for the safe condition of tools and equipment used by employees, including tools and equipment which may be furnished by employees.
Workers should always be wearing appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) when using hand tools, which might include safety glasses with side shields or goggles and gloves that provide adequate hand protection. If gloves are worn be sure that the hand tools being used can still be gripped easily without risk of slipping.
Workers should be sure that they take good care of their hand tools to avoid common injuries such as:
- Severe cuts or punctures that require stitches
- Scrapes and abrasions that can end up with skin infections
- Eye injuries or blindness from chipping or chiseling
- Electrical shocks from using improperly insulated tools for electrical work
- Carpal tunnel syndrome if the wrong tool is used repeatedly or the right tool is used incorrectly
- Bruises or broken bones when tools slip, fall or are carelessly thrown
Injuries with tools often take place when workers fail to use them as intended or forget to inspect them before using. Workers should be trained and reminded to follow safe work practices every time they use their tools.
It’s important to select the correct hand tool for the job. Choose a tool that:
- is designed for the task.
- fits your hand size.
- keeps your wrist straight.
- fits in the workspace available.
- can be used in a comfortable work position.
- requires a minimum of force to use.
- has a handle that extends beyond your palm.
For tasks requiring high force, choose a tool with a handle length longer than the widest part of your hand – usually 4 to 6 inches. If the handle is too short, the end of the tool will press against the palm of your hand and may cause injury.
Select a tool that has a non-slip surface for a better grip. Adding a sleeve to the tool improves the surface texture of the handle. To prevent tool slippage within the sleeve, make sure that the sleeve fits snugly during use.
OSHA Construction Standard 1926.301(d) The wooden handles of tools shall be kept free of splinters or cracks and shall be kept tight in the tool.
Hand tools should always be inspected before use. Never use hand tools that are rusted, cracked, warped, splintered, loose, damaged or broken!
Look for any damage such cracks in handles, sharp edges, or splintering. If a wooden handle on a tool, such as a hammer or an ax, is loose, splintered, or cracked, the head has the potential to fly off causing injuries.
Make sure that tools are not covered in paint, grease, or dirt that can create a hazard or hide a serious defect. Wrenches that are warped, rusted, or sprung can result in breaking or slippage that can lead to serious hand injuries. Spades, shovels, and other long handled tools should not be used unless they are in good working condition.
Saws, knives, scissors, or other similar hand tools should be sharp. Dull tools can actually be more hazardous than sharp tools.
OSHA Construction Standard 1926.301(b) Wrenches, including adjustable, pipe, end, and socket wrenches shall not be used when jaws are sprung to the point that slippage occurs.
If performing work around flammable gases, volatile liquids or other explosive materials use a hand tool made of non-ferrous material. Iron or steel hand tools may produce sparks that can be an ignition source around flammable substances.
Ensure jacks are placed on a firm foundation. If a firm foundation is absent, the base should be blocked to prevent slippage.
Ensure hand tools are insulated if working near energized electrical parts.
Always use the proper attachments, handles, and grips provided by the manufacturer!
Never use impact tools that have mushroomed heads. They can chip and send pieces flying off as projectiles.
OSHA Construction Standard 1926.301(c) Impact tools, such as drift pins, wedges, and chisels, shall be kept free of mushroomed heads.
Awkward postures make more demands on your body. In some cases, the placement of the work piece will affect your shoulder, elbow, wrist, hand, or back posture. Whenever possible, choose a tool that requires the least continuous force and can be used without awkward positions. The right tool will help you to minimize pain and fatigue by keeping your neck, shoulders, and back relaxed and your arms at your sides.
Avoid raising your shoulders and elbows. Relaxed shoulders and elbows are more comfortable and will make it easier to drive downward force. Over time, exposure to awkward positions or harmful contact pressures can contribute to an injury. Reduce risk of injury by selecting hand tools that fit your hand and the job you are doing.
Hand tools can also pose a risk even when they are not in use if they are not carried, stored, or handled properly.
- Never carry sharp tools like screwdrivers or chisels in your pocket! Only carry them with the point side down in a tool belt or in a tool box.
- Instead of carrying tools up and down a ladder by hand, consider using a bucket or a strong bag.
- Never toss or throw any hand tool to a co-worker.
- When carrying larger tools pay attention to corners and doorways. Ensure the work site has clear walkways and maintain good housekeeping to prevent slips, trips and falls while carrying tools.
- Always put tools away when not in use. Don’t leave any tools lying on any elevation, like scaffolding, where there is a risk to people or property below.