The importance of hand tool safety

Hand tools are used in almost every type of industrial or construction industry and across every trade. The simplicity of some tools means that their associated hazards are often overlooked when in fact they are a leading cause of workplace injury in the UK.

While some of those injuries will be minor, others will cause long term physical damage and have lasting effects on employees lives and their ability to work. Even the humble screwdriver can cause painful lacerations or puncture injuries if it slips because the tip has become worn or the wrong size is used. Similarly, employers should ask whether their employees know that only non-sparking pliers should be used near combustible material. If injuries related to hand tools are common in a workplace, it may be time for the organisation to rethink their health and safety procedures. A definitive responsibility exists in law for the protection of employees against such risks, and accidents can prove very costly to employers that fail to take appropriate measures.

PUWER explained

The Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations (PUWER) 1998 lays out an employer’s duty to their employees when it comes to all types of tools, machinery and vehicles used for work. It covers any equipment used at work, including hammers, knives, drilling machines, circular saws, and even office equipment like photocopiers. Furthermore, it covers even minimal use such as stopping and starting, as well as repairing, servicing and cleaning of the equipment in question. Its guidance and obligations extend to the use of equipment in shared areas and temporary places of work such as construction sites.

What PUWER tells us is that employers have a duty to make sure that all equipment which their employees use is maintained in a safe condition and, where appropriate, regularly inspected by a qualified person – with a record kept of all inspections. Under PUWER, employers have a responsibility to assess and control all risk associated with work equipment as far as is practicably possible, eliminating risk wherever they can. There must also be adequate provision of personal protection equipment (PPE); this might include safety goggles or cut-resistant gloves. Importantly, PUWER also tells us that equipment should only be used by employees who have had appropriate training and only ever used for the purpose for which it was intended. This is of particular relevance when considering the use of hand tools, where basic training is often overlooked.

The primary message is that the employer is ultimately responsible for the safety of their employee, as is also the case under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. More information on PUWER can be found here.

Adapting health and safety procedures

Every workplace is different. A comprehensive risk assessment is therefore the essential first step to safer use of hand tools. This will help to identify the level of risk, which will be greater where tools are used at height, for example. A risk assessment will also focus attention on those who are most vulnerable to harm, such as new workers or those with less training, and will detail the steps an employer has already taken to reduce or eliminate risk, including training and provision of PPE.  A completed risk assessment should enable an employer to adapt health and safety measures to suit not only their unique environment but also their workforce, taking daily tasks into consideration and covering any specific needs of the individuals that make up their team.

Common sense is not enough

When it comes to hand tools, it’s crucial to recognise that it’s not appropriate to simply rely on common sense; an employer has a duty to outline possible dangers to workers and help them find better, safer ways to work. Guidance for employees might include what clothes and footwear to wear, advice to check that the floor beneath them is dry and free from tripping hazards and to take regular breaks from repetitive work, and reminders to check that they are not standing in an awkward position and have enough light to work safely.

The storage of tools should also be a subject of employee training, as tools that are stored incorrectly have the potential to become falling objects or tripping hazards and cause injury to other people. Once again, the responsibility to provide adequate storage and ensure safe processes are followed lies firmly with employer. Getting it right will not only protect employees and visitors from harm, it will also help to create a safe, productive workplace and mean that businesses can avoid any unnecessary financial loss.

If you’re looking for a practical and straightforward way to improve your health and safety culture and demonstrate to partners, clients and stakeholders that your business can meet or exceed current safety standards, find out more information on Acclaim Accreditation here.

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