A common misconception among workers and managers alike is that hand tools are safe and don't require as much attention or training as power tools. Yet the Consumer Products Safety Commission says that more than 100,000 people require hospital treatment each year due to injuries caused by hand tools.
Two Causes of Injury by Hand Tools
The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) says that the two most common causes of injuries from hand tool use come from misuse and improper maintenance of tools. Misuse of tools involves situations where a worker uses a tool for something other than its original purpose. Common examples of misuse involve using a screwdriver as a chisel, or using pliers to loosen or tighten a nut or a bolt.
Injuries caused by improper maintenance occur when workers use tools that are chipped, cracked, dulled, and have other signs of wear. Tools that are in a state of disrepair have a much higher risk of breaking during even routine use and causing injury to the user or other workers in the vicinity, such as when a broken hammer head launches off of the handle and hits someone.
Musculoskeletal injuries to the hands and arms, such as Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, are among the most common injuries caused by hand tools. This can be caused by repeated impacts and repetitive motions with the hands.
Other common injuries are abrasions and cuts, debris from broken tools getting into someone's eyes, or blunt trauma caused by a piece of material that comes off of the tool or material being worked.
Ultimately, the responsibility for preventing workplace injuries falls on both the employer and the employee. While no amount of caution can prevent every possible injury, there are are some ways that both parties can avoid the most common ones:
- Employer Training: According to OSHA, employers have a legal mandate to make sure all employees know how to properly use their tools safely. This means using the right tool for the job and using it with proper technique.
- Frequent Breaks: Constant impact and repetitive activity can lead to undue strain on employees' muscles. Frequent breaks allow them to get the rest they need.
- Wear Safety Gear: The Environmental Health and Safety Office at Penn State suggests that workers wear safety gear at all times. Safety glasses, padded gloves, and other accessories can go a long way toward keeping everyone injury-free.
- Keep Tools in Good Condition: Using a broken or over-worn tool will almost certainly cause injury. Workers must inspect their tools often and replace them when they are no longer suitable for use.