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Operating Power Tools Safely

Power tools have just about replaced the use of manually (muscle power) operated tools not only in the home and industry, but also in the fire service. Life sure has gotten easier, including in the emergency services. Imagine, there are people who have never known anything other than a power driven screwdriver!

The dictionary defines a tool as “a device, such as a saw, used to perform or facilitate manual or mechanical work.” What that means is that a tool is meant to make the job or task at hand easier and if it isn’t making it easier, you are probably using the wrong tool, or using it improperly.

In the fire service, we now have an assortment of portable power tools which can be operated by a variety of power sources. These power sources include electric or battery operated, compressed air and/or hydraulically operated tools. Whatever the power source, there is no doubt that they make the task at hand easier and faster to accomplish; but they must also be maintained and operated in a safe manner or they can become dangerous devices, especially in the hands of the untrained.

Tools can seriously injure or even kill the operator, or others, when not properly maintained or used. All emergency responders who use power tools must learn to recognize the hazards associated with the different types of tools and the safety precautions necessary to prevent those hazards. Therefore, some precautions are required when using power tools.

First and foremost, we must read the owner’s manual and instructions that came with the tool. It is also recommended to let the salesperson or manufacturer’s representative give a training session on the proper and safe use of the tool. Learn the proper application, limitation and potential hazards of the tool and operate the tool at all times according to the manufacturer's instructions. Follow the instructions; do not cut corners and do not remove any built in safety devices and controls.

Then, follow up with your department training program where members can get some additional hands on training before placing the tool in service. Knowing how to start the tool and how to stop the tool is important. I know all of this is pretty basic, but all members who will use the tool should attend the training session. This will help prevent unsafe practices and future problems.

Whenever using any power tool, personal protective clothing must be worn along with eye, respiratory and hearing protection if required. Select the correct tool or tools for the job at hand and never use a tool or attachment for something it was not designed to do. Don’t expect more from a tool than it can deliver and never operate a tool you have not been trained to operate.

Concentrate on the work at hand when operating power tools, using two hands to control the tool and never looking away from your work. Sometimes the use of power tools under certain situations may require the use of another firefighter as a guide. Should you become distracted, or if someone or something enters the work area, immediately shut down the power tool. Never overreach and maintain your footing and control of the tool at all times. If you feel you are losing your grip or stability, shut the tool down and reposition. If operating at night or under limited light, provide adequate scene lighting to maintain adequate visibility to safely operate the power tools. After each emergency, all tools used should be cleaned and inspected, ensuring that they are in safe operating condition and ready for the next emergency.

Power tools make our everyday tasks much easier and enable us to accomplish many feats in a short period of time, but they also require respect. Most accidents and injuries that occur do so quickly and are usually from lack of concentration or firefighter inexperience with the tool. Accidents can happen to the experienced (over-confident) firefighter just as easily as to a newer firefighter. Being aware of your surroundings, not letting your guard down, expecting the unexpected and operating within the parameters of your training and the manufacturer’s instructions, should result in a safe operation. Like most accidents, accidents with power tools are preventable.

Till Next Time, Stay Safe and God Bless!

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Henry CampbellSenior Correspondent

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