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Course 810 - Hand and Power Tool Safety

Safety guides and audits to make your job as a safety professional easier

Power Tool Safety



Because power tools are so common in construction, workers are constantly exposed to a variety of hazards. The very tool that makes their job easy and efficient may one day be the cause of a tragic accident. It is good to be reminded of good-sense safety practices.

Which Power Tools Cause the Most Hand Injuries?

Considering how often they are used at construction sites, powered hand tools cause relatively few hand injuries in the industry. In 2012, hand injury claims amounted to only about 4.5 percent of all injury claims accepted for the industry as a whole.

It should not come as too much of a surprise that saws, drills, and nail guns account for most of the injuries (67 percent). However, let’s take a look at the top 10 most dangerous portable power tools:

  1. saws (except chainsaws)
  2. drills
  3. nail guns
  4. jackhammers
  5. hand grinders
  6. chainsaws
  7. hand tools not otherwise classified
  8. sprayers-paint
  9. hammers
  10. impact wrenches

(Source: OR-OSHA)



The exposed moving parts of power tools need to be safe-guarded. Belts, gears, shafts, pulleys, sprockets, spindles, drums, flywheels, chains, or other reciprocating, rotating, or moving parts of equipment must be guarded.

Machine guards, as appropriate, must be provided to protect the operator and others from the following:

  • point of operation
  • in-running nip points
  • rotating parts
  • flying chips and sparks

Safety guards must never be removed when a tool is being used.

Follow these rules when using circular saws:

  • Portable circular saws with a blade greater than 2 inches (5.08 centimeters) in diameter must be equipped at all times with guards.
  • An upper guard must cover the entire blade of the saw.
  • A retractable lower guard must cover the teeth of the saw, except where it makes contact with the work material.
  • The lower guard must automatically return to the covering position when the tool is withdrawn from the work material.

Check out this short audio clip by Dan Clark of the talks about some innovative table saw technology.

See the video clip on this technology.


Protect your hair, scalp, and head. Pull back long hair in a band or a cap to keep it from getting caught in tools or moving parts. Be extremely careful with long hair when using a drill or drill press.

Operating Controls and Switches

drill press

Power tools must be fitted with safety switches; they are extremely hazardous when used improperly. The types of power tools are determined by their power source: electric, pneumatic, liquid fuel, hydraulic, and powder-actuated.

Constant-Pressure Switches and Controls

The following hand-held power tools must be equipped with a constant-pressure switch or control that shuts off the power when pressure is released:

  • drills
  • tappers
  • fastener drivers
  • horizontal, vertical, and angle grinders with wheels more than 2 inches (5.08 centimeters) in diameter
  • disc sanders with discs greater than 2 inches (5.08 centimeters)
  • belt sanders
  • reciprocating saws
  • saber saws
  • scroll saws, and jigsaws with blade shanks greater than 1/4-inch (0.63 centimeters) wide
  • circular saws having a blade diameter greater than 2 inches (5.08 centimeters)
  • chain saws
  • percussion tools with no means of holding accessories securely
  • other similar tools

These tools also may be equipped with a “lock-on” control, if it allows the worker to also shut off the control in a single motion using the same finger or fingers.

Positive “On-Off”, Constant Pressure, and “Lock-On” Controls


The following hand-held power tools must be equipped with either a positive “on-off” control switch, a constant pressure switch or a “lock-on” control:

  • disc sanders with discs 2 inches (5.08 centimeters) or less in diameter
  • grinders with wheels 2 inches (5.08 centimeters) or less in diameter
  • platen sanders, routers, planers, laminate trimmers, nibblers, shears, and scroll saws
  • jigsaws, saber and scroll saws with blade shanks a nominal 1/4-inch (6.35 millimeters) or less in diameter

It is recommended that the constant-pressure control switch be regarded as the preferred device.

Portable Tool Use with Extension Cords

extension cord

In construction, extension cords suffer a lot of wear and tear. Most often, the damage is only to the insulation, exposing energized conductors. When a person handling the damaged cord contacts the exposed wires while holding a metal tool case or contacting a conductive surface, serious electrical shock can result, causing a fall, physical injury, or death.

Extension Cords—Who Can Repair Them?

When a worker at a construction site inspects an extension cord and determines that it needs to be repaired, who can repair it?

Anyone who is qualified can do the repair. The worker does not have to be a licensed electrician to repair a typical extension cord. However, he or she must have the knowledge and skills to repair the cord correctly, understand the hazards involved in making the repair, and be able to describe what could happen if the repair is done wrong. The employer is responsible for determining if the person is qualified. The basis for the determination is normally from the electrical industry perspective. (Source: OR-OSHA)



The term "ground" refers to a conductive body, usually the earth. "Grounding" a tool or electrical system means intentionally creating a low-resistance path to the earth. When properly done, current from a short or from lightning follows this path, thus preventing the buildup of voltages that would otherwise result in electrical shock, injury and even death.

Under certain conditions, even a small amount of electric current can result in fibrillation of the heart and death. An electric shock also can cause the user to fall off a ladder or other elevated work surface and be injured due to the fall.

Three-wire cords contain two current-carrying conductors and a grounding conductor. Any time an adapter is used to accommodate a two-hole receptacle, the adapter wire must be attached to a known ground. To protect the worker from shock and burns at work, make sure electrical powered tools have a three-wire cord with a ground. To avoid hazards:

  • Ground all power supply systems, electrical circuits, and electrical equipment.
  • Frequently inspect electrical systems to insure that the path to ground is continuous.
  • Visually inspect all electrical equipment before use. Take any defective equipment out of service.
  • Do not remove ground prongs from three-prong equipment or extension cords. This is one of the most common electrical cord violations cited by OSHA.
  • Use double-insulated tools and equipment, distinctively marked.
  • Ground all exposed metal parts of equipment.
  • Ground metal parts of the following non-electrical equipment, as specified by the OSHA standard [29 CFR 1926.404(f)(7)(v)]:
    • Frames and tracks of electrically operated cranes.
    • Frames of non-electrically driven elevator cars to which electric conductors are attached.
    • Hand-operated metal shifting ropes or cables of electric elevators.
    • Metal partitions, grill work, and similar metal enclosures around equipment of over 1kV between conductors.

Ground-Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCI)

Since neither insulation nor grounding protects you from these conditions, use other protective measures. One acceptable method is a ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI).


A ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI), is a fast-acting circuit breaker designed to shut off electric power in the event of a ground-fault within as little as 1/40 of a second. It works by comparing the amount of current going to and returning from the equipment along the circuit conductors. When the amount going differs from the amount returning by approximately 5 milliamperes, the GFCI interrupts the current.

  • Receptacle Type - The Receptacle Type incorporates a GFCI device within one or more receptacle outlets. Such devices are becoming popular because of their low cost.
  • Portable Type - Portable Type GFCIs come in several styles, all designed for easy transport. Some are designed to plug into existing non-GFCI outlets, or connect with a cord and plug arrangement. The portable type also incorporates a no-voltage release device that will disconnect power to the outlets if any supply conductor is open. Units approved for outdoor use will be in enclosures suitable for the environment. If exposed to rain, they must be listed as waterproof.
  • gfc
  • Cord-Connected Type - The Cord-Connected Type of GFCI is an attachment plug incorporating the GFCI module. It protects the cord and any equipment attached to the cord. The attachment plug has a non-standard appearance with test and reset buttons. Like the portable type, it incorporates a no-voltage release device that will disconnect power to the load if any supply conductor is open. Because GFCIs are so complex, they require testing on a regular basis. Test permanently wired devices monthly, and portable-type GFCIs before each use. All GFCIs have a built-in test circuit, with test and reset buttons, which triggers an artificial ground-fault to verify protection. Ground-fault protection, such as GFCIs provide, is required by OSHA in addition to (not as a substitute for) general grounding requirements.


Before beginning this quiz, we highly recommend you review the module material. This quiz is designed to allow you to self-check your comprehension of the module content, but only focuses on key concepts and ideas.

Read each question carefully. Select the best answer, even if more than one answer seems possible. When done, click on the "Get Quiz Answers" button. If you do not answer all the questions, you will receive an error message.

Good luck!

1. Which of the following power tools cause the most injuries on the job?

2. Which of the following hazards is controlled by using guards on tools?

3. Which of the following is the recommended control switch device for powered tools?

4. Which of the following is true concerning the use of the third prong on a plug?

5. Permanently wired Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCI) should be tested at least _____.

Have a safe day!

Important! You will receive an "error" message unless all questions are answered.