This first module takes a look at the various hazards associated with working with tools and identifies ways to prevent worker injury through proper use of tools and personal protective equipment.

The employer is ultimately responsible for the safe condition of tools and equipment used by employees. Employers should never issue or permit the use of unsafe hand and power tools.

Employees should be trained in the proper use and handling of tools and equipment.

Workers should also be able to recognize the hazards associated with the different types of tools and the safety precautions necessary.

Five basic safety rules can help prevent hazards associated with the use of hand and power tools:

  1. Keep all tools in good condition with regular maintenance.
  2. Use the right tool for the job.
  3. Examine each tool for damage before use and do not use damaged tools.
  4. Operate tools according to the manufacturer's instructions.
  5. Provide and properly use the right personal protective equipment.

Employees and employers should work together to establish safe working procedures. If an employee encounters a hazardous situation, it should be brought immediately to the attention of the supervisor or other responsible person immediately for hazard abatement.

Check out this short audio clip by Dan Clark of the theSafetyBrief.com. It’s easy to forget how dangerous tools can be. They're around every worksite and in constant use. Dan reminds us that tool safety is everyone’s responsibility.

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1. Who is ultimately responsible for the safe condition of tools and equipment?

a. The employee
b. The supervisor
c. The safety manager
d. The employer


Some tools are advertised as “ergonomic” or designed with ergonomic features. A tool becomes “ergonomic” only when it fits the task you are performing, and it fits your hand without causing awkward postures, harmful contact pressures, or other safety and health risks.

If you use a tool that does not fit your hand—or use the tool in a way it was not intended—you might develop an injury, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, tendinitis, or muscle strain.

These injuries do not happen because of a single event, such as a fall. Instead, they result from repetitive movements that are performed over time or for a long period.

Unsafe practices may result in damage to muscles, tendons, nerves, ligaments, joints, cartilage, spinal discs, or blood vessels. Below are some ergonomic issues to consider when using hand and power tools.

Neutral Position: When working with hand tools, it is good practice to maintain a neutral (handshake) wrist position. Remember, bend the tool, not the wrist.
Flexion and Extension: Design tasks and select tools to reduce extreme flexion or deviation of the wrist.
Power Grip: The hand grip that provides maximum hand power for high force tasks. All the fingers wrap around the handle.
Contact Pressure: Pressure from a hard surface, point, or edge on any part of the body.
Pinch Grip: The hand grip that provides control for precision and accuracy. The tool is gripped between the thumb and the fingertips.

2. What is a good rule when working with hand tools?

a. The wrist position should be in flexion or extension
b. Maintain the wrist in a neutral position
c. Keep the wrist properly flexed
d. Make sure the wrist is not extended too far

What is the Best Tool?

The best tool does the following:

  • fits the job you are doing
  • fits the work space available
  • reduces the force you need to apply
  • fits your hand
  • can be used in a comfortable work position
  • does not require you to raise or extend the elbows (heavy tools)

Conditions that Cause Hand and Wrist Disorders

The following are some of the conditions that can cause hand and wrist disorders:

  • frequent or repetitive movement of the hand or wrist (usually associated with awkward wrist angles)
  • inappropriate tool and equipment design
  • vibrating knives and saws
  • poor work station design and arrangement
  • cold environments

Symptoms of Hand and Wrist Disorders

You may have a problem if you have any of these symptoms:

  • tingling
  • swelling in the joints
  • decreased ability to move
  • decreased grip strength
  • pain from movement, pressure, or exposure to cold or vibration
  • continual muscle fatigue
  • sore muscles
  • numbness
  • change in the skin color of your hands or fingertips

These symptoms may not appear immediately because they develop over weeks, months or years. By then, the damage may be serious. Take action when you notice any discomfort. (Source: CAL-OSHA)

3. Each of the following is a condition that might result in hand and wrist disorders, EXCEPT _____.

a. tasks requiring repetitive motion
b. vibrating tools
c. tools requiring a power grip
d. cold environments

Hand Tool Safety

Tools that are manually powered are called hand tools. Hand tools include anything from axes to wrenches. Common hand tools include: Tin snips, hatchets, screw drivers, hammers, pliers, anvils, wrenches, files, rasps, saws, punches, chisels, planes, hand-held boring tools, and pop rivet guns.

This is the wrong tool for this job!

Wrong Tool for the Job

The greatest hazards posed by hand tools result from misuse and improper maintenance.

Some examples include the following:

  • If a chisel is used as a screwdriver, the tip of the chisel may break and fly off, hitting the user or other employees.
  • If a wooden handle on a tool, such as a hammer or an axe, is loose, splintered, or cracked, the head of the tool may fly off and strike the user or other employees.
  • If the jaws of a wrench are sprung, the wrench might slip.
  • If impact tools such as chisels, wedges, or drift pins have mushroomed heads, the heads might shatter on impact, sending sharp fragments flying toward the user or other employees.

4. The greatest hazards posed by hand tools result from _____.

a. misuse and improper maintenance
b. poor quality and tool defects
c. the average age of tools
d. tools break from impact striking workers

Selecting the Right Tool for the Job


Before you select a tool, think about the job you will be doing. Tools are designed for specific purposes.

Using a tool for something other than its intended purpose is most often the cause of both tool damage and personal injury. You can reduce your chances of being injured when you select a tool that fits the job you will be doing. Examples include the following:

  • job requiring cutting, pinching and gripping will require hand tools like pliers, snips and cutters
  • job requiring you to strike something will require some kind of hammer
  • job requiring you to drive or turn something will require screw or nut drivers and wrenches

Check out this short audio clip by Dan Clark of the theSafetyBrief.com. Hand safety means more than wearing PPE. Even jobs that don't require gloves can be dangerous for hands. Repetitive motion can affect tendons and joints. Ergonomics can help with the design and arrangement of tools to maximize hand safety.

Tips for Selecting Hand Tools

Over time, exposure to awkward postures or harmful contact pressures can contribute to an injury. You can reduce your risk of injury if you select hand tools that fit your hand and the job you are doing. In the next tab, we'll discuss some tips from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).

5. What is often the cause of tool damage and personal injury?

a. Failing to properly handle tools
b. Using too much force while using the tool
c. Using tools for something other than intended purposes
d. Failing to understand the limitations of tools

Single-Handle Tools

Single-handle tools are tube-like tools measured by handle length and diameter. The diameter is the length of a straight line through the center of the handle.

  • For single-handle tools used for precision tasks, select a tool with a handle diameter of 1/4 inch to 1/2 inch.
  • For single-handle tools used for power tasks, select a tool that feels comfortable with a handle diameter in the range of 1 1/4 inches to 2 inches. You can increase the diameter by adding a sleeve to the handle.
single hand

6. Which of the following would be a suitable diameter for single-handle tools requiring a power grip?

a. 1 ¾ inches
b. 1 inch
c. ½ inch
d. ¾ inch

Double-Handle Tools

Double-handle tools are measured by handle length and grip span. The grip span is the distance between the thumb and fingers when the tool jaws are open or closed.

  • For double-handle tools (plier-like) used for power tasks, select a tool with a grip span that is at least 2 inches when fully closed and no more than 3 1/2 inches when fully open. Consider using a clamp, a grip, or locking pliers when continuous force is required.
  • For double-handle tools used for precision tasks, select a tool with a grip span that is no less than 1 inch when fully closed and no more than 3 inches when fully open.
  • For double-handled pinching, gripping, or cutting tools, select a tool with handles that are spring-loaded to return the handles to the open position.

Edges and Surfaces

It’s important to consider the edges and surfaces of the handles of tools you want to use. Be sure to check the following:

  • Select a tool without sharp edges or finger grooves on the handle.
  • Select a tool that is coated with soft material.
grip span
double handle

7. For double-handle tools used for precision tasks, select a tool with a grip span that is _____ when fully closed and _____ when fully open.

a. no less than 1 inch; no more than 2¾ inches
b. no less than 1½ inches; no more than 3½ inches
c. no less than 1 inch; no more than 3 inches
d. no less than 2¼ inches; no more than 4 inches



Select a tool with an angle that allows you to work with a straight wrist.

  • Tools with bent handles are better than those with straight handles when the force is applied horizontally (in the same direction as your straight forearm and wrist).
  • Tools with straight handles are better than those with bent handles when the force is applied vertically.
  • For tasks requiring high force, select a tool with a handle length longer than the widest part of your hand—usually 4 inches to 6 inches.
  • Prevent contact pressure by making sure the end of the handle does not press on the nerves and blood vessels in the palm of your hand. If the handle is too short, the end will press against the palm of your hand and may cause an injury.
  • Select a tool that has a non-slip surface for a better grip. Adding a sleeve to the tool improves the surface texture of the handle. To prevent tool slippage within the sleeve, make sure that the sleeve fits snugly during use. Remember, a sleeve always increases the diameter or the grip span of the handle.
handle length

8. When are tools with straight handles better to use than those with bent handles?

a. When the force is applied vertically
b. When the force is applied horizontally
c. When the force is applied tangentially
d. When the force is applied diagonally

Proper Tool Use

tool use

Be sure to follow these general rules when using hand tools:

  • Inspect tools before using.
  • Avoid using damaged tools.
  • Tools that appear to be damaged or have broken handles should be marked unsafe.
  • Do not use damaged or defective tools until they have been repaired.

Always use proper-sized tools and equipment for the job. Use each tool only for the job for which it was intended. Forcing a small tool to do the job of a large one may result in injury or tool damage. Follow these guidelines:

  • Never use a screw driver to see if electrical circuits are hot.
  • Never use a machinist's hammer in place of a carpenter's hammer.
  • Do not strike a hardened steel surface, such as an anvil, with a steel hammer because a small piece of steel may break off and injure someone.
  • Be sure wrenches fit properly.
  • Never use pliers in place of a wrench.
  • Never strike wrenches with hammers or use wrenches as hammers.
  • Pull on wrenches. Do not push.
  • When sawing, secure the material in the saw vise.
  • Watch your fingers. Take special care when hammering so that you strike the object, not your fingers.

9. Which of the following is NOT a safe rule when working with tools?

a. Do not strike a hardened steel surface with a steel hammer
b. Never use wrenches as hammers
c. Do not use screw drivers to test electrical circuits
d. Do not pull on wrenches: push them

Tool Replacement and Storage

tool storage

To make sure tools remain in good condition, follow these guidelines when replacing and storing tools:

  • Carry and store all hand and power tools properly.
  • Carry all sharp-edge tools and chisels with the cutting edge down.
  • Do not carry sharp tools in a pocket.
  • Store all sharp-edge cutting tools with the sharp edges down.
  • Grip and hold tools so that they do not slip and hit someone.
  • Do not wear gloves if they are bulky and make gripping tools difficult.
  • Keep other employees away from the work when using saw blades, knives, or other tools.
  • Keep tools away from aisle areas and away from other employees.
  • Knives and scissors must be sharp.
  • Remove cracked saw blades from service.
  • Replace wrenches when jaws are sprung to the point that slippage occurs.
  • Replace tools with mushroomed heads, such as impact tools such as drift pins, wedges, and chisels.
  • Replace all tools with splintered wooden handles.
  • Do not store iron or steel hand tools that may produce sparks around flammable substances.
  • Store only spark-resistant tools made of non-ferrous materials where flammable gases, highly volatile liquids, and other explosive substances are stored.

10. Which of the following is a safe practice when using tools?

a. Tighten wrenches that have loose or sprung jaws that slip
b. Store sharp-edge tools with the sharp edges down
c. Tape tool handles that are splintered
d. Weld cracked saw blades only if cracks are less than 1 inch long

Check your Work

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