Think of the hardest wood you have ever worked with. What would it be? Hard maple? Ipe? Brazilian cherry?
Now, think about how easy it was to work with. The bandsaw that sliced through the piece with ease. The table saw that crosscut the board cleanly. The drill press that bored a straight, deep hole with little struggle.
Now, imagine those tools slicing through bone or flesh? Ouch.
It’s true that power tools can bite hard. And fast. According to studies conducted by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), some of the most common power tool accidents occur in the following scenarios:
- Employees can be injured if their hands get too close to the blade, particularly when working on small pieces of stock. The size of the piece dictates that the operator’s hand be close to the blade. Accidents can occur when stock unexpectedly moves or when a worker’s hand slips.
- Stock can get stuck in a blade and actually pull the operator’s hands into the machine.
- Employees can be injured if the machine or its guard is not properly adjusted or maintained. An improperly adjusted radial saw, for example, might not return to its starting position after making a cut.
- If the machine has controls that are not recessed or remote, and the equipment is accidentally started, a worker’s hands may be caught at the point of operation.
- Contact also can occur during machine repair or cleaning if care is not taken to de-energize the machine—that is, if lockout/tagout procedures are not followed.
- An employee may be injured if he or she reaches in to clean a saw or remove a piece of wood after the saw has been turned off, but is still coasting or idling. Also, saw blades often move so fast that it can be difficult to determine whether they are moving. This is especially a problem under fluorescent lighting.
One additional way woodworkers can be hurt is by tripping. I can’t count the number of times in the middle of a project I have stopped, looked down and saw a tangle of power cords under my feet. Sure, it might be easy to navigate while looking down and taking my time, but those loose tails could snag my foot while carrying something heavy…
So, what to do? Well, take the time to read your owner’s manual. Seriously. Keeping your tools properly maintained, adjusted and using the guards that came with them, you can reduce the likelihood of injury. Using hold-downs, featherboards and push sticks can also help.
But, most importantly, keeping your mind on your work is the number one tip to remember when working with your tools. All the safety guards in the world are not going to help you if you are not paying attention.