How to Avoid Common Power Tool Accidents

More than 90,000 saw-related injuries occurred in 2001. See more pictures of power tools.
©iStockphoto.com/dragon_fang

"An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." This famous saying from Benjamin Franklin can apply to both your health and safety, especially where tools are concerned. Tools make work easier, faster and even more precise. Yet, tools -- and power tools in particular -- can also cause injuries. A Hazard Screening Report by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission estimated that in 2001 more than 418,000 emergency room-treated injuries were associated with power tools and workshop equipment [source: Marcy]. And a majority of these power tool-related injuries occur to men [sources: Sacchetti and Appy].

These injuries include both professionals and amateurs. Dr. Alfred Sacchetti, Chief of Emergency Services at Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center in Camden, N.J., and spokesperson for the American College of Emergency Physicians estimates that weekend warriors make up about 70 percent of the power tool-related injuries he sees in the emergency room. It's important to note that workers might have company-sanctioned medical facilities or on-site doctors to deal with injuries [source: Jois-Bilowich].

Regardless of whether you're a pro or a do-it-yourselfer, there are some common injuries that can afflict you. In this article, we'll highlight some of those injuries, their causes and some tips for avoiding them. First, we'll look at lacerations and amputations, one of the most severe injury categories.

Saw Accidents

Many common power tool injuries fall under the category of lacerations and amputations. A laceration is a jagged wound or cut, whereas an amputation is a full removal of a body part. A majority of these accidents occur to the fingers or hand. "You have a power tool, and what you are doing with the power tool, you are holding with your hand," says Dr. Sacchetti, Chief of Emergency Services at Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center in Camden, N.J. "When things don't go well, your hand takes the brunt of it."

The severity of the injury depends on a number of factors, including location of injury, the deepness of the cut and type of power tool that caused the accident. Any amputation can affect mobility, movement and dexterity. Yet, for example, losing the tip of an index finger might not affect the holding and grasping of things as much as losing part of a thumb, especially if it's on your dominant hand.

There are several power tools that can inflict these injuries. One of the most common is the saw. From table saws to circular saws and chain saws, these tools have sharp blades that can be designed to cut a variety of materials. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commissions' research, U.S. hospital emergency rooms treated an estimated 93,800 saw-related injuries in 2001 [source: Adler]. Accidents can occur when fingers or a hand get too close to the blade or are pulled into the blade when cutting a piece of wood. Trying to cut a piece of wood that is too small for the tool is another situation that can cause injury.

Yet, taking the proper precautions can help to reduce the risk for injury. Here are a few tips to help reduce your risk for saw-related injuries:

  • Don't take off the safety guard on a saw; it's there for a reason.
  • Use a push-stick when guiding wood through a saw.
  • Don't wear jewelry when operating power tools. Wearing rings around moving parts can lead to injuries that necessitate whole finger amputations.

Lawnmowers and Snow Blowers Accidents

Much like the saw, two of the most common yard power tools also pose a risk for lacerations or amputations. The lawnmower and the snow blower are routinely used to handle outdoor projects, which can make them seem deceivingly safe. This false sense of security can lead to an underestimation of the risk of injury.

For example, when a tool is malfunctioning, an operator may try to do a quick fix on the equipment, yet these fixes can have dire consequences. "It amazes me how many people will have a problem with their lawnmower and reach their hand underneath to explore the problem, forgetting the dangers of sharp, rotating objects," says Dr. Ryan Stanton, medical director at U.K. Good Samaritan Emergency Medicine, associate professor at U.K. Department of Emergency Medicine and spokesperson for the American College of Emergency Physicians.

A similar situation can occur with a snow blower. When a piece of ice or snow is jammed inside the snow blower, the operator may reach into the blower to dislodge the clog. When the obstruction is removed, the blades will kick back and revolve, cutting off fingers or the whole hand.

It's important to remember that accidents don't only happen to the operators of these tools; bystanders should also take precautions. Bystanders can be hit by projectiles while a lawnmower is in use. Riding lawnmowers can pose a particular risk to young children or pets if the operator doesn't see them and accidentally reverses or drives over them.

A few tips to keep in mind when using these powered lawn tools:

  • Keep all bystanders at a distance.
  • Before mowing the lawn, walk the area and clear it of small rocks or branches that could potentially be thrown during mowing.
  • Wear closed-toed shoes when working with power tools.

Power Tool Eye Injuries

Eye injuries are another common category of injuries related to power tools. According to the 2009 Eye Injury Snapshot Project done by the American Academy of Ophthalmology, more than one in five eye injuries occurring at home were due to home repair or power tools. The most common place for the injuries to occur was the yard or garden [source: American Academy of Ophthalmology].

The most common form of eye injury associated with power tools comes from shavings of wood or metal flying into the eye when working on a project. Bystanders can also be affected by indirect dust from the construction site connecting with their eyes. These injuries can come from tools that have the potential to throw objects of any shape into the air, including saws, drills, sanders or grinders. Lawnmowers can also catch items from the ground and shoot them across the yard, injuring a person.

An easy way to protect against many eye-related injuries is by wearing protective eyewear. The American Academy of Ophthalmology and the American Society of Ocular Trauma recommend that every household have at least one pair of ANSI-approved protective eyewear for use during projects with potential for eye injuries [source: American Academy of Ophthalmology]. One of the most important things about protective eyewear and other protective equipment is consistency [source: Appy]. "Unfortunately with accidental injuries, you can do it 99 times and get away with cutting a corner on safety, but it's the hundredth time that something really bad happens," says Meri-K Appy, president of the Home Safety Council.

Next, we'll take a look at puncture wounds.

Power Tool Puncture Wounds

Puncture wounds happen most often because fingers get too close to the drill bit.
Puncture wounds happen most often because fingers get too close to the drill bit.
©iStockphoto.com/track5

Puncture wounds include any wound that creates a hole with a specific entry point into the skin. Similar to lacerations or amputations, puncture wounds are also most prevalent in the fingers and hands. "Usually it is someone holding something to drill through it, and the drill works very nicely," says Dr. Sacchetti. "It goes right through what they are holding and right through the hand that's holding it."

These injuries are usually done with drills, electric screwdrivers and even staple or nail guns [source: Josephson]. According to a report analyzing data from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and Center for Disease Control, from 2001-2005, an average of approximately 37,000 patients were treated for nail-gun injuries at U.S. hospital emergency departments annually with 40 percent of those injuries occurring to non-professionals [source: Lipscomb].

While many of these injuries are less serious than a laceration or amputation, they can still be very painful. "I did manage to put a power drill's Phillips screwdriver bit through my non-dominant left thumbnail, totally obliterating the nail bed, two years ago," says Dr. Richard K. Turner, Doctor's Medical Center in San Pablo, Calif., and spokesperson for the American College of Emergency Physicians. "The thumbnail has almost grown back to pre-accident status. Man, that hurt!"

Taking proper precautions is the key to reducing the risk of injury. Here are some safety tips to reduce the risk of puncture wounds:

  • Read the owner's manual for the tool you are using.
  • Wear snug-fitting leather or suede construction gloves when working. It won't prevent an accident, but it will offer an extra layer of protection.
  • For nail guns, be sure to keep your finger off the trigger when not firing.
  • For drills, don't force the tool, apply only the pressure needed to steady it.

From puncture wounds to amputations, power tools certainly have the potential to change a small project into a disaster. Yet, with good safety habits, the chance for injury can be greatly reduced. "Before anybody starts a project like that take a moment to reflect on: What am I going to lose here and how willing am I to give it up? If you're not willing to give it up, do what's needed to protect yourself," says Meri-K Appy, president of the Home Safety Council.

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Sources

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