How To Use Power Tools Safely

Construction By Matthew Coombes

We use power tools A LOT. Whether for work or just DIY, power tools are in every tradesperson’s toolkit, and in most homes. But how do you use power tools safely?

There is a wide variety of power tools out there on the market, and many tools will have their own hazards to your health and to your safety. Manufacturers will provide guidance on how to safely operate and maintain the tool and this guidance can often be very valuable to eliminating risks that you may face. However, it’s easy enough to misplace your manual or for that manual to cover only the bare minimum required to ensure that the tool is legal for sale within the UK.

This article will look at some of the issues with power tools broadly, and focus on some of the lesser mentioned risks to your health or safety.

Motors and power – Entanglement

Any motorised equipment which has moving parts attached to that motor is likely to come with risks of entanglement. As a motor spin it can draw in loose fabric, clothing, hair, wires or even skin into the working parts of the motor. Unless whatever gets into the motor instantly jams it, or activates a failsafe, the motor always wins – especially where skin and hair are concerned. Scalping due to contact with moving parts is very common and very painful, and just because the equipment is sold to you for you to use at home doesn’t mean that it’s not a risk.

Pillar drills, grinders, orbital sanders, handheld drills all present a significant risk of entanglement.

Supply of power

While we’re on the subject of power, how equipment is powered can also present a risk. If it’s a device powered by the mains, it is likely drawing a lot of energy, and if the equipment is damaged, faulty or otherwise broken, this energy could increase the risk of a fire, such as a dodgy fuse or frayed wire. Visibly check equipment for damage before plugging it in, checking for damaged wiring, exposed wiring, burn marks, or other damage which looks substantial.

Batteries are not risk free, they can get hot while charging and a significant impact to a battery can cause it to destabilise and potentially explode.

Additionally, make sure that you’re not risking cutting the power supply while the equipment is live. This is because of risks for abruptly stopping the equipment, such as a saw coming to a complete stop and flinging a piece of wood or metal, and because the cutting of the power itself could be a risk, such as mowing the lawnmower power cable and electrocuting yourself.

Flying debris

Think about the debris that is likely to be created while using your power tool. Using a chainsaw has risks specific to the equipment such as kickback, but additionally the quick moving parts can mean pieces of bark, wood or knots flying around unpredictably. The same goes for Mitre Saws, hedge trimmers, grinders circular saws and tile cutters. Make sure that you’re wearing suitable clothing for the job and that you’ve got suitable Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

There is also a risk that parts of the tool itself or parts attached to the tool can become dangerously unattached, such as when an angle grinder disc snaps. This will require specific controls to the device being used, such as an effective guard on the device.

Noise

Sustained noise

Power tools are often a lot louder than we realise, and we often use the power tool for a more sustained period than we realise. The Health and Safety Executive’s guidance is that you shouldn’t be exposed to 80 decibels for longer than 8 hours. However, sound increases pressure rapidly, and you shouldn’t be exposed to sound in excess of 83 decibels for longer than 4 hours. A quick and not fully scientific check of a drill in our office using a ‘sound level meter’ to measure decibels found that the motor is around 83 decibels, and this isn’t taking into account any additional noise from the resistance of the material being drilled. If you work with power tools, all day, every day, it is likely that you are walking close to the line of over-exposure to noise, even if all you’re using is a standard handheld drill.

Loud noise

Short exposures to exceedingly loud noises are also an issue. You shouldn’t exceed 100 decibels for longer than 5 minutes and while I’m not able to repeat my not fully scientific experiment with a mitre saw and steel worktop leg in the office, I can assure you from first hand experience it’s louder than a hand drill.

Many modern mobile phones and other devices like smart watches are able to measure decibels and provide feedback as an in-built feature or using an app. While not always 100% accurate, it provides a very good guide for judging in black and white if something is too loud or not.

Dust

Woodworking dust, silica (bricks and stone) dust, metalworking dust and other forms of dust can be extremely dangerous to our health. When inhaled they can lead to developing lung and oesophageal cancers and other breathing-based conditions such as asthma.

You will typically face exposure to dusts when cutting, sanding, scaling, lathing or otherwise changing materials with a power tool.

Use Local Exhaust Ventilation (LEV) wherever possible to draw the dust away at the source. Many modern power tools now come with LEV built in, but where LEV isn’t possible, ensure that the area is as ventilated as possible. Some brick saws will need a water supply instead of an LEV to wet the material and blade while cutting, reducing the dust levels.

Where LEV and other ventilation is not possible, your last form of defence is appropriate Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE). However, this doesn’t just mean throwing on a cheap mask or pulling your tee shirt over your mouth. Many masks rely on a good seal, and facial hair or stubble can mean that the seal between your face (and therefore lungs) and the dust is broken. You wouldn’t eat sand, sawdust, or metal filings, so why breathe it in?

Ensure that your mask meets face fit standards. If your employer is providing RPE with the intention that it is used, they need to ensure that it is fit for purpose by facilitating Face Fit Testing, completed by a competent person with each employee individually. Different masks also fit differently based on the person’s face, so it’s not one size fits all.

Pressure Washers

Similarly, pressure washers kick up mud, faeces (cats, birds, dogs, rats, mice) and other grime while in operation. If inhaled, ingested or coming into contact with our eyes or respiratory system this can cause significant health issues. Wear appropriate PPE for the task, such as safety glasses or a face shield.

They also kick up rocks which can be travelling at high speeds, and the nozzle of the pressure washer should never be pointed at people or animals as the water pressure can quickly injure.

Heat

Moving parts and power tools specifically designed to create heat (such as a heat gun) can increase the risk of a fire. A fire can only break out if there is a source of oxygen (such as the air we breathe), a source of fuel (such as sawdust and soft furnishings), and a source of heat from your equipment. It’s important to consider how your equipment can create heat, and what in your workspace can be considered fuel.


Related Articles

Page Loading

We now accept Klarna as a payment method. You will see this as an available option at checkout when completing the purchase. Dismiss