Construction sites are filled with tools. Workers use hand tools like hammers, screwdrivers and wrenches all the time. They use power tools like drills and chainsaws on a regular basis, too. Tools may seem pretty straightforward, but you shouldn’t assume that everyone understands how to use tools properly and safely. (A recent survey even found many millennial workers don’t possess as much knowledge of tools as older workers.) When used improperly, tools can pose obvious hazards like cuts and lacerations. They also create conditions that can lead to slow-developing problems like carpal tunnel syndrome and other ergonomic injuries.
Safety managers, supervisors and construction workers should all keep the following advice in mind when using or working around tools:
The tool should fit the job. Don’t use the end of a screwdriver to hammer something just because a hammer isn’t easily accessible. Tools are designed for specific purposes and if they aren’t used appropriately they can put strain on the body. They can also slip or be dropped more easily.
The tool should fit the worker. A tool that doesn’t fit the hand of the person using it can cause strain on muscles, leading to fatigue more quickly. Over time, an improperly sized tool can cause strains and disorders like carpal tunnel syndrome.
Watch out for sharp edges. Cut away from the body and cover sharp parts of tools when carrying them. You probably learned this when you were young, but the rule still applies.
Take care of tools. This might mean lubricating a power tool or sharpening a tool’s blade. Tools should also be stored properly so they don’t get damaged and so workers don’t get injured when they reach inside a messy toolbox filled with sharp objects. When necessary, repair and replace tools. Worn parts can lead to needless accidents. If a tool’s handle is loose, for example, it could more easily break or slip out of a person’s grip.
Use personal protective equipment (PPE) if necessary. Gloves, hearing protection, eyewear and boots might all be called for when working around tools. For example, those who work around loud power tools could face hearing damage if they don’t use earplugs or earmuffs. Workers using saws likely need to protect their eyes from flying debris with safety glasses.
If you don’t know how to use a tool, ask. Additionally, if you see someone using a tool improperly, bring the problem to his or her attention. This behavior could be an accident waiting to happen.
Watch out for signs of ergonomic injuries. When muscles feel sore, painful or numb, it’s possible tools are causing problems. Workers who use vibrating power tools, for example, often experience pain and numbness related to White Finger Syndrome, which is blood vessel and nerve damage caused by extended exposure to vibration. Eventually, the fingers appear white because blood flow in the hands is restricted. Disorders like this one are often difficult to treat, so prevention is key.
Construction workers need to be safe in the short term and the long term; they need to avoid immediate injuries like cuts from tools, but they also need to watch out for chronic conditions that can develop as a result of using tools on a daily basis. Workers should look out for symptoms of ergonomic injuries and try not to work at odd angles whenever possible. Tools might seem simple, but the injuries and illnesses they can cause often aren’t simple to correct.