Power tool and manual handling


26 August 2019

A number of separate incidents have occurred on the ACT’s worksites in recent times involving serious injury to several workers’ fingers. Some incidents have involved the use of power tools and others have involved placing hands in dangerous positions during various work activities.

Contributing factors

There have been two separate incidents of finger amputation while workers have been incorrectly using power tools. One incident occurred while a worker was mixing tiling glue with a power drill where his gloved hand became caught in the paddle mixer while in use. In another incident on a different worksite, a worker lost his finger while cutting a block of wood with a circular saw.

Other incidents resulting in hand injuries involved a severe laceration while working to fix a fault on a small conveyor belt. On a separate worksite, a worker’s fingers were crushed by metal tubing while moving a stack of tubes.

Action required

Power tools

Before a business requires its workers to attempt any tasks that are new or different, operators must be given training and instruction on the safe use of the power tool including:

  • how to hold the power tool safely, maintain good balance and footing at all times, and avoid using it in awkward positions
  • how to position the power tool so they are neither bending over nor standing directly behind the blade, especially when the guard is pulled back towards the top of the blade
  • not over-reaching, or holding the power tool above the line of the shoulder
  • not cutting objects for which an abrasive blade is not intended; or
  • not using the power tool to pry or shovel away objects.

Other safety tips for the use of power tools including drop-saws, angle grinders, and drill presses are:

  • use power tools with the correct guard supplied by the manufacturer;
  • use the correct spindle flange and lock nut for the disc and make sure these are fitted the way the angle grinder manufacturer shows in the instruction manual. The type of flange or fitting method may vary for cutting and grinding discs. If the incorrect flange and lock nut combination are used, the disc can be damaged and lead to premature failure or can become loose and dislodge;
  • the guard should be designed to prevent cutting with the front and upper quadrant of the blade – don’t pull the guard beyond the limit stop;
  • use wet-cutting when possible – the water acts as a lubricant, reduces reactive forces and limits dust and fumes; and
  • reduce pressure on the saw as the cut nears its end – too much pressure may cause loss of control, particularly if the blade strikes a foreign object and shatters, or the blade bites as it exists the material;
  • ensure the object:
    • is fully supported – eg place pipes on timber supports; material being cut is supported and balanced for before and after the cut;
    • is secured so that it cannot roll or slip away – eg chocked and does not vibrate;
    • use timber wedges to prevent cut from closing.
  • operators must wear appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) – eg mask, goggles and hearing protection.
  • a safe system of work must ensure that no-one is exposed to any risks when working in the vicinity of the saw – eg establish an exclusion zone, with clearly defined physical barriers and signage, when the saw is in use.

If the tasks are to be performed by your workers, then ask:

  • are activities within the capability and experience of the workers?
  • does the work involve serious work health and safety risks arising from the work environment or the nature of the work; if so how will those risks be eliminated or reduced to the lowest level possible?
  • what level of supervision and resources will be required to safely perform the work?

New or different work should not proceed unless the workers are capable of safely performing the tasks, risks have been reduced to the lowest level possible and appropriate levels of supervision are in place. And remember, every worker has the right to say no to unsafe work.

Manual handling

In relation to manual handling, an appropriate task risk assessment should be undertaken to ensure that all safety matters are considered as part of the design of the workplace activity.

A checklist should be considered covering such matters as:

  • work environment – lighting, access, is there sufficient room to undertake the task safely?
  • systems of work and work design – is the planned work method suitable for the task?
  • mechanical assistance available and appropriate – can a lifting task be assisted by a mechanical device to reduce strain?

A good example of a checklist is available on the Comcare website

For further information contact WorkSafe ACT on 132281 or email WorkSafe@act.gov.au.

This Alert contains information emerging during an investigation by WorkSafe ACT into the mentioned incident at the date of this report. The information contained in this report does not necessarily reflect the final outcome of WorkSafe’s views or proposed actions with respect to this incident. WorkSafe ACT does not warrant the information in this report is complete or up-to date and does not accept any liability to any person for the information in this report, or its use.

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