The University of Chicago

Environmental Health & Safety


Hand and Portable Power Tools


The University of Chicago shall ensure that all hand tools are used properly, safely and in accordance with all manufacturer’s guidelines.

Authority and Responsibility

Environmental Health and Safety is responsible for:

  1. Assisting supervisors in identifying hazardous conditions in regards to hand/power tools;
  2. Inspecting areas to ensure that this policy is being adhered to; and
  3. Providing safety awareness training, as needed.

Department supervisors are responsible for:

  1. Anticipating all work hazards;
  2. Ensuring that all safeguards are utilized;
  3. Working with Environmental Health and Safety to initiate any necessary administrative action required to enforce safe work practices;
  4. Replacing all damaged tools;
  5. Ensuring that tools are being properly maintained by instituting an inspection program;
  6. Ensuring employees are trained to use tools properly and in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions; and
  7. Taking the appropriate corrective action in accordance with the University of Chicago’s Personnel Policy on Progressive Corrective Action, Section 703 for employees not complying with this policy.

Employees are responsible for:

  1. Anticipating all work hazards;
  2. Ensuring that all safeguards are utilized;
  3. Conducting routine inspections to ensure that tools are properly maintained;
  4. Reporting to their supervisor any tool that needs to be replaced;
  5. Following all safety guidelines for the use of hand/power tools and according to manufacturer’s instructions; and
  6. Participating in training provided by the department and/or University.

General Safety Precautions

Employees who use hand and power tools and who are exposed to the hazards of falling, flying, abrasive and splashing objects, or exposed to harmful dusts, fumes, mists, vapors, or gases must be provided with the appropriate equipment needed, including Personal Protective Equipment, to protect them from the hazard. Refer to the University of Chicago's Personal Protective Equipment policy.

All hazards involved in the use of power tools can be prevented by following some basic safety rules:

Employees and employers have a responsibility to work together to establish safe working procedures. Refer to the Hand and Portable Tool Information Sheet. If a hazardous situation is encountered, it shall be brought to the attention of the Department Supervisor and/or Environmental Health and Safety for evaluation and corrective action. Additionally, only University employees shall use University hand/portable power tools.

Hand Tools

Hand tools are non-powered. They include anything from axes to wrenches. The greatest hazards posed by hand tools result from misuse and improper maintenance.

Some examples of misuse include the following:

Hand tool precautions including the following:

Power Tools

Power tools can be hazardous when improperly used. There are several types of power tools, based on the power source they use: electric, pneumatic, liquid fuel, hydraulic, and powder-actuated.

The following general precautions shall be observed by power tool users:


Hazardous moving parts of a power tool need to be safeguarded. For example, belts, gears, shafts, pulleys, sprockets, spindles, drums, fly wheels, chains, or other reciprocating, rotating, or moving parts of equipment shall be guarded if such parts are exposed to contact by employees.

Guards, as necessary, shall be provided to protect the operator and others from the following:

Safety guards shall never be removed when a tool is being used. For example, portable circular saws shall be equipped with guards. An upper guard shall cover the entire blade of the saw. A retractable lower guard shall cover the teeth of the saw, except when it makes contact with the work material. The lower guard shall automatically return to the covering position when the tool is withdrawn from the work. Refer to the University of Chicago's Machine Guarding policy.

Safety Switches

The following hand-held power tools shall be equipped with a momentary contact “on-off” control switch: drills, tappers, fastener drivers, horizontal, vertical and angle grinders with wheels larger than two inches in diameter, disc and belt sanders, reciprocating saws, saber saws and other similar tools. These tools also may be equipped with a lock-on control provided that turnoff can be accomplished by a single motion of the same finger or fingers that turn it on.

The following hand-held powered tools may be equipped with only a positive “on-off” control switch: platen sanders, disc sanders with discs two inches or less in diameter; grinders with wheels two inches or less in diameter; routers, planers, laminate trimmers, nibblers, shears, scroll saws and jigsaws with blade shanks quarter inch wide or less.

Other hand-held powered tools such as circular saws having a blade diameter greater than two inches, chain saws and percussion tools without positive accessory holding means shall be equipped with a constant pressure switch that will shut off the power when the pressure is released.

Electric Tools

Employees using electric tools shall be aware of several dangers with the most serious being the possibility of electrocution.

Among the chief hazards of electric-powered tools are burns and slight shocks which can lead to injuries or even heart failure.

To protect the user from shock, tools shall either have a three-wire cord with ground and be grounded, be double insulated, or be powered by a low-voltage isolation transformer. Anytime an adapter is used to accommodate a two-hole receptacle, the adapter wire shall be attached to a known ground. The third prong shall never be removed from the plug.

Tools shall be shut down before cleaning, repairing or oiling. Disconnect or use Lockout/Tagout Procedures. Refer to the University of Chicago's Lockout/Tagout Program.

These general practices shall be followed when using electric tools:

Powered Abrasive Wheel Tools

Powered abrasive grinding, cutting, polishing, and wire buffing wheels create special safety problems because they may throw off flying fragments or excessive dust.

Before an abrasive wheel is mounted, it shall be inspected closely and sound- or ring-tested to ensure that it is free from cracks or defects. To test, wheels shall be tapped gently with a light non-metallic instrument. If the wheel sounds cracked or dead, they could fly apart in operation and shall not be used. A sound and undamaged wheel will give a clear metallic tone or “ring.” To prevent the wheel from cracking, the user shall be sure it fits freely on the spindle. The spindle nut shall be tightened enough to hold the wheel in place, without distorting the flange. Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations. Care shall be taken to ensure that the spindle wheel does not exceed the abrasive wheel specifications.

Due to the possibility of a wheel disintegrating (exploding) during start-up, the employee shall never stand directly in front of the wheel as it accelerates to full operating speed.

Portable grinding tools need to be equipped with safety guards to protect workers not only from the moving wheel surface, but also from flying fragments in case of breakage.

In addition, when using a power grinder:

Pneumatic Tools

Pneumatic tools are powered by compressed air and include chippers, drills, hammers, and sanders.

There are several dangers encountered in the use of pneumatic tools. The main one is the danger of getting hit by one of the tool’s attachments or by some kind of fastener the worker is using with the tool.

Eye protection is required and face protection is recommended for employees working with pneumatic tools. When sanders are used, dust masks shall also be worn.

Noise is another hazard. Working with noisy tools (e.g. jackhammers) requires proper, effective use of hearing protection. Refer to the University of Chicago's Hearing Conservation program.

When using pneumatic tools, employees shall ensure they are fastened securely to the hose to prevent them from becoming disconnected. A short wire or positive locking device attaching the air hose to the tool will serve as an added safeguard.

A safety clip or retainer shall be installed to prevent attachments, such as chisels on a chipping hammer, from being unintentionally shot from the barrel.

Screens shall be set up to protect nearby workers from being struck by flying fragments around chippers, riveting guns, staplers or air drills.

Compressed air guns shall never be pointed toward anyone. Users shall never “dead-end” it against themselves or anyone else.  It is recommended to use air guns equiped with safety tips that have relief ports to reduce pressure if blockage or dead-ending occurs.

Powder-Actuated Tools

Powder-actuated tools operate like a loaded gun and shall be treated with the same respect and precautions. The use of powder-actuated tools is prohibited until approved by Environmental Health and Safety.

Safety precautions to remember include the following:

Hydraulic Power Tools

The fluid used in hydraulic power tools shall be an approved fire-resistant fluid and shall retain its operating characteristics at the most extreme temperatures to which it will be exposed.

The manufacturer’s recommended safe operating pressure for hoses, valves, pipes, filters and other fittings shall not be exceeded.


The use of hand and portable power tools may be the source of certain ergonomic stressors, which may lead to the development of musculoskeletal disorders. Refer to the University of Chicago's Ergonomics policy for more information.

Reviewed: June 2014