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Exercise caution to avoid hand, power tool injuries

By Keryn Page

MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Ignoring safety precautions when using hand or power tools can turn a routine task into a painful or even deadly experience.

Herb Willcutt, a Mississippi State University Extension Service safety specialist, knows from personal experience the importance of using safety equipment when operating power tools. He was using a portable grinder one Saturday afternoon when a sliver of metal lodged in his eye.

"After a very miserable Saturday night and Sunday due to the metal cutting my eyelid every time I blinked, I went to the doctor on Monday. I got the metal removed, ointments applied and my eye bandaged for a week, not knowing if I would lose sight in that eye or not," Willcutt said. "Lucky for me, my vision was not impacted greatly, and I learned to use safety glasses every time I use power tools."

The National Ag Safety Database recommends wearing safety glasses with the Z87.1 logo to ensure they are industrial quality.

In addition to eye injuries, other hazards associated with operating power tools include electric shock, cuts, ear damage, falls and dust inhalation. NASD recommendations include the following:

  • Avoid wearing loose-fitting clothing or jewelry that could get caught in moving equipment parts.
  • When working in dusty conditions, use a filter-type respirator.
  • Always clean power tools before putting them away.
  • Avoid using tools that are or appear to be in disrepair.
  • Do not use a power tool before it has reached operating speed or while it is coming to a stop. Never force a tool by applying too much pressure.

To avoid electric shock while using power tools, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration recommends disconnecting tools when they are not in use, before servicing and when changing accessories such as blades and bits. Avoid accidental starting by not holding fingers on the switch button when carrying a plugged-in tool. Remove all damaged portable electric tools from use and label them "do not use."

Keep cords away from heat, oil and sharp edges, including the cutting surface of a power saw or drill. Serious shock may result if the cord is cut.

Hand-powered tools may seem non-threatening compared to electric-powered ones, but Willcutt said safety measures similar to those for power tools still are needed.

"I have a neighbor who lost an eye at age 19 while doing carpentry work on a dairy barn," Willcut said. "He hit a nail at a glancing blow, causing the nail to ricochet and lodge in his eye. He panicked and pulled the nail out of his eye, dislodging the eye from the socket."

Wear industrial-quality safety glasses and proper clothing when using hand-operated tools. Concentrate on the job at hand, and always use the proper tool for the job.

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Released: March 3, 2005
Contact: Herb Willcutt, (662) 325-7345

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