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

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Authority and Responsibility

Environmental Health and Safety is responsible for:

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

Department supervisors are responsible for:

  • Anticipating all work hazards;
  • Ensuring that all safeguards are utilized;
  • Working with Environmental Health and Safety to initiate any necessary administrative action required to enforce safe work practices;
  • Replacing all damaged tools;
  • Ensuring that tools are being properly maintained by instituting an inspection program;
  • Ensuring employees are trained to use tools properly and in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions; and
  • 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:

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

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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 dust, 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:

  • Keep all tools in good condition with regular maintenance;
  • Use the right tool for the job;
  • Examine each tool for damage before use;
  • Operate according to the manufacturer’s instructions;
  • Utilize the proper protective equipment. Refer to the University of Chicago's Personal Protective Equipment Policy; and
  • Participate in safety training.

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.

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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:

  • Using a screwdriver as a chisel may cause the tip of the screwdriver to break and fly, hitting the user or other employees;
  • Using a tool with a wooden handle (e.g., hammer) if the handle is loose, splintered, or cracked, the head of the tool may fly off and strike the user or another worker;
  • Using a wrench if its jaws are sprung because it might slip; and
  • Using impact tools (e.g., chisels, wedges) if they have mushroomed heads, the heads might shatter on impact, sending sharp fragments flying.

Hand tool precautions including the following:

  • Employers shall caution employees that saw blades, knives, or other tools be directed away from aisle areas and other employees working in close proximity. Knives and scissors shall be sharp. Dull tools can be more hazardous than sharp ones;
  • Floors shall be kept as clean and dry as possible to prevent accidental slips with or around dangerous hand tools; and
  • Around flammable substances, sparks produced by iron and steel hand tools can be a dangerous ignition source. Where this hazard exists, spark-resistant tools made from brass, plastic, aluminum, or wood shall be used.

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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:

  • Never carry a tool by the cord or hose;
  • Never remove prongs from any cords;
  • Never stand in or near water when using tools;
  • Always use a Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI) with electrical tools if working in a wet environment;
  • Never “yank” the cord or the hose to disconnect it from the receptacle;
  • Keep cords and hoses away from heat, oil, and sharp edges;
  • Replace all frayed and/or damaged extension cords. Do not try to tape cords;
  • Disconnect tools when not in use, before servicing and when changing accessories such as blades, bits, and cutters;
  • All observers shall be kept at a safe distance away from the work area;
  • Secure work with clamps or a vise, freeing both hands to operate the tool;
  • Avoid accidental starting. The worker shall not hold a finger on the switch button while carrying a plugged-in tool;
  • Tools shall be maintained with care. They shall be kept sharp and clean for the best performance. Follow instructions in the user’s manual for maintenance, lubricating and changing accessories;
  • Maintain good footing and balance;
  • Avoid loose-fitting clothes, ties or jewelry such as bracelets, watches or rings, which can become caught in moving parts;
  • Use tools that are either double-insulated or grounded (three-pronged);
  • Keep work area well lit when operating electric tools;
  • Ensure that cords and hoses do not pose as a tripping hazard; and
  • All portable electric tools that are damaged shall be removed from use and tagged “Do Not Use”. This shall be done by supervisors and/or employees.

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Hazardous moving parts of a power tool need to be safeguarded. For example, belts, gears, shafts, pulleys, sprockets, spindles, drums, flywheels, 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:

  • Point of operation;
  • Nip points;
  • Rotating parts;
  • Flying chips; and
  • Sparks.

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.

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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.

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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:

  • Electric tools shall be operated within their design limitations;
  • Gloves, eye protection, and safety footwear are recommended during use of electric tools;
  • When not in use, tools shall be stored in a dry place;
  • Electric tools shall not be used in damp or wet locations; and
  • Work areas shall be well lit, even if this means the operators has to augment the work surface illumination by other appropriate means.

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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, it 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:

  • Always use eye protection and a dust mask;
  • Turn off the power when not in use; and
  • Never clamp a hand-held grinder in a vise.

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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 equipped with safety tips that have relief ports to reduce pressure if a blockage or dead-ending occurs.

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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:

  • These tools shall not be used in an explosive or flammable atmosphere;
  • Before using the tool, the worker shall inspect it to determine that it is clean, all moving parts operate freely, and the barrel is free from obstructions;
  • Employees shall not modify tools;
  • The tool shall never be pointed at anybody;
  • The tool shall not be loaded unless it is to be used immediately. A loaded tool shall not be left unattended, especially where it could be available to unauthorized persons;
  • Hands shall be kept clear of the barrel end;
  • To prevent the tool from firing accidentally, two separate motions are required for firing: one to bring the tool into position and another to pull the trigger;
  • The tools shall not be able to operate until they are pressed against the work surface with a force of at least five pounds greater than the total weight of the tool;
  • If a powder-actuated tool misfires, the employee shall wait at least 30 seconds, then try firing it again;
  • If it still will not fire, the user shall wait another 30 seconds so that the faulty cartridge is less likely to explode then carefully remove the load. The bad cartridge shall be put in water;
  • Suitable eye and face protection are essential when using a powder-actuated tool;
  • The muzzle end of the tool shall have a protective shield or guard centered perpendicularly on the barrel to confine any flying fragments or particles that might otherwise create a hazard when the tool is fired. The tool shall be designed so that it will not fire unless it has this kind of safety device;
  • All powder-actuated tools shall be designed for varying powder charges so that the user can select a powder level necessary to do the work without excessive force; and
  • If the tool develops a defect during use, it shall be tagged and taken out of service immediately until it is properly repaired.

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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.

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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: March 2023

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