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OSH Article of the Month

February 28, 2003

Hand and Portable Power Tool Safety

By Sean M. Alvarez, CSP

When we think of workplace hazards, the first things that often come to mind are complex machines or chemicals. We often overlook some of the biggest hazards in general industry - hand and portable power tools. These simple, everyday tools can be very helpful in getting a job done faster. At the same time, hand and portable power tools can one of the biggest hazards your employees may encounter and can cause serious injury if not used and maintained properly.

A comprehensive Hand and Portable Power Tool Safety Program is necessary to reduce or eliminate many of the hazards associated with hand or power tool usage:

Falling Hazards

Hand and portable power tools are frequently used in hard to reach places. If you are working off of a ladder, a scaffold or similar elevated location, falling hazards need to be considered.

Securing tools deeply into a tool belt, ensuring that toe boards are present on scaffolds and keeping the work are beneath you clear and free of other workers are just a few of the ways to help minimize falling hazards. Additionally, wearing a hard hat in areas where fall hazards are likely may help you to prevent severe injury.

Flying Objects

Flying hazards result from the motion of hand and power tools. A poorly struck nail, a worn wire brush or using a circular saw or grinder can all send particles or fragments into flight. These "flying" objects travel at high rates of speed and can easily penetrate skin or eyes.

To help reduce to generation of hazardous flying objects, ensuring that guards are present and not modified and utilizing proper shielding. Keeping the work area clear of other workers may also help to mitigate flying hazards. Additionally, make sure that you are wearing proper skin, hand and eye protection.

Cuts and Abrasion Hazards

Knives, chisels, snips, saws or simply any hand or power tool with a sharp edge can result in a severe cut or abrasion if handled improperly.

To reduce the chance for cuts, keep sharp edges pointed and operated away from your body. Inspecting your tools for undesigned sharp edges or burrs may also help to reduce cut injuries.

Unintentional contact with a grinding wheel, electric sander or even a hand file can cause abrasions to your skin.

Ensuring that guards are present and not modified may help to mitigate both cut and abrasion hazards. Wearing cut resistant skin and hand protection may provide additional protection.

Respiratory Hazards

Respiratory hazards can exist whenever a hand or power tool is used to remove material that you are working on. Grinding, sawing, sanding and drilling are examples of hand or power tool activities that may generate nuisance or hazardous dusts or fumes.

Providing proper ventilation or partical removal at the source should help to reduce exposure to breathing hazards. You should become familiar with the materials being generated as the result of your hand or power tool activity and wear respiratory protection appropriate for the hazard.

Electrical Burns and Shocks

Since many power tools utilize a corded power source, the possibility of electrical burns or shocks exits.

  • Do not use damaged electrical cords or connections.
  • Always inspect the cord or connection prior to use.
  • Use of a ground fault circuit interruptor (GFCI) will help to reduce the risk of shock
  • · Do not use electric-powered tools in damp or wet locations.

Use extreme caution when drilling, cutting or sawing into "blind" locations. Electrical sources may be present and, if cut into, may cause electrical burns and/or shocks.

Slips, Trips and Falls

Good housekeeping in the working area may also help to prevent slips, trips and falls while working with hand and power tools. Routing electrical cords or air hoses out of traffic areas or routing them overhead may also help to prevent tripping injuries.

Failing to properly use and maintain hand and power tools causes thousands injuries each year. Everyone who uses these tools must learn to recognize the hazards associated with the different types of tools and the safety precautions necessary to prevent those hazards. You should identify the hand or power tools used in your workplace and develop a written plan and training program to address recognition and control of these hazards.

At minimum, your Hand and Portable Power Tool Safety Program should address:

  • Non-powered hand tools
  • Electric tools
  • Portable abrasive wheel tools
  • Pneumatic tools
  • Liquid fuel tools
  • Powder-actuated tools
  • Hydraulic power tools

Your plan should include these fundamental hand and power tool concepts:

  • Using the right tool for the job
  • Keeping all tools in good working condition
  • Inspecting all tools prior to use
  • Using the tools as designed by the manufacturer
  • Never removing guards or modifying safety features built into switches
  • Protecting employees by using appropriate PPE

Here are some helpful links to assit you in developing a Hand and Portable Power Tool Safety Program:

Portable Power Tool Safety Tips - Memorial Hospital - Towanda, Pennsylvania

Power Tool Institute - Excellent site for power tool specific safety guidance. Free streaming power tool safety video & "Safety is Specific" publication (PDF) on power tool safety.

OSHA - Hand and Power Tool Safety page

Hand and Power Tools. OSHA Publication (PDF). Includes information on the dangers of hand and power tools and safety precautions.

Hand / Power Tool Safety Links - Comprehensive list of tool-specific links. Provided by the The National Ag Safety Database (NASD). Includes some in documents in spanish.

Engineering Services Safety. Office of Health and Safety Information System (OhASIS), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Health and Safety Manuals, Engineering Safety Manual. Chapter 16-00-20 entitled "General Shop/Work Area Safety" contains a section (Section I) on hand and portable power tools

NIOSH Hazard Controls. DHHS Publications series regarding wood:

OSHA 1910 Subpart P, Hand and Portable Power Tools and Other Hand-Held Equipment.

  • 1910.241, Definitions.
  • 1910.242, Hand and portable powered tools and equipment, general.
  • 1910.243, Guarding of portable powered tools.
  • 1910.244, Other portable tools and equipment.
  • 1910.266, Logging operations. Paragraph (e) contains requirements for hand and portable powered tools.

Letter requesting interpretation of the OSHA electrical standards as they apply to employees using insulated hand tools - OSHA Interpretations

The Canadian Standards Association, a nationally recognized testing laboratory, marking and double insulated tools - OSHA Interpretations

Certification of manufactured products intended for use in the workplace - OSHA Interpretations

Use of general protective equipment and tools by employees when working near exposed energized conductors or circuit parts in the workplace - OSHA Interpretations

Marking recognition, regulations and policy of double insulated power tools - OSHA Interpretations

Applicability of 1910.212(a)(3)(ii) to Portable Pneumatic Powered Fastener Tools - OSHA Interpretations

Interpretation on extension cords for portable hand tools - OSHA Interpretations

Clarification that a safety device to automatically cut off the flow of compressed air applies only to pneumatic power tools - OSHA Interpretations

Pneumatic tools must be designed and used in accordance with good engineering practices - OSHA Interpretations

Clarification of 1910.212 and 1910.242 as applying to hand-type office paper cutters and sharp edged hand tools - OSHA Interpretations

OSHA - Shipbuilding - 1915 Subpart H, Tools and Related Equipment

  • 1915.131, General precautions.
  • 1915.132, Portable electric tools.
  • 1915.133, Hand tools.
  • 1915.134, Abrasive wheels.
  • 1915.135, Powder actuated fastening tools.
  • 1915.136, Internal combustion engines, other than ship's equipment.
  • 1918.69, Tools (Longshoring)

OSHA - Marine Terminals
· 1917.51, Hand tools.

Hand and Portable Power Tools. OSHA's Small Business Outreach Training Program Instructional Guide

Hand and Power Tools - OSHA Construction Safety and Health Outreach Program

Hand and Power Tools for Construction - Osha Construction Hand and Power Tools page

OSHA Construction Standards - 1926 Subpart I, Tools - Hand and Power.

  • 1926.300, General requirements.
  • 1926.301, Hand tools.
  • 1926.302, Power-operated hand tools.
  • 1926.303, Abrasive wheels and tools.
  • 1926.304, Woodworking tools.
  • 1926.305, Jacks-lever and ratchet, screw, and hydraulic.
  • 1926.306, Air receivers.
  • 1926.307, Mechanical power-transmission apparatus.


Use of insulated hand tools - OSHA Interpretations

D'AX wheels are to be guarded as cutting saws - OSHA Interpretations.

All electric tools need to be tested by a qualified national testing laboratory and be listed and labeled - OSHA Interpretations

"Introduction to Shop and Tool Safety" Training Program - National High Magnetic Field Laboratory - operated by Florida State University

Hand Tools Training Guide - UC Berkeley, Labor Occupational Health Program Factsheets

Hand Tools Safety Walkaround Checklist - UC Berkeley, Labor Occupational Health Program Factsheets

Portable Power Tools Training Guide - UC Berkeley, Labor Occupational Health Program Factsheets

Portable Power Tools Safety Walkaround Checklist - UC Berkeley, Labor Occupational Health Program Factsheets

Small Power Tools Safety Meeting Presentation - NC State University

Power Tool Safety - University of Maine - Farm Safety Program

Hand Tool Safety Manual - Florida State University

Reducing Risk of Hand-Arm Vibration Injury from Hand-Held Power Tools - UK Health and Safety Executive Information Document

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