Hammering home the need for tool safety

January 30, 1993|By Newport News (Va.) Daily Press

Instead of a hammer, one woman used the plastic handle of a screwdriver to pound a nail into a wall. When the handle shattered, one of the plastic shards hit her in the eye and blinded her.

In another incident, a man used a screwdriver instead of a pry bar to rip boards off an old deck. The screwdriver snapped under the strain, and the man fell forward, breaking his two front teeth.

These injuries reported in Family Health & Safety magazine illustrate some common problems that result from using the wrong hand tool or using the right one improperly.

"The most common thing we see are foreign objects in the eye," said Jason Garrison, an emergency room physician at Riverside Regional Medical Center in Newport News, Va. "About twice a year, we see people using radial saws who have cut off a finger or cut into their hands."

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that 110,000 people receive emergency hospital treatment each year for serious injuries due to misusing simple tools. In 1990, hammers caused 50,000 injuries, according to the commission, while 29,000 injuries resulted from bench and table saws. Pliers, wire cutters and wrenches were responsible for almost 15,000 injuries, and screwdrivers caused another 14,000 injuries, according to the commission.

Often, some simple precautions can prevent many injuries.

"Concentrate on what you're doing," said Bill Mitchell of Beach Hardware Inc. in Hampton, Va. "Keep kids out of the way so that you don't have to keep looking over your shoulder to see where they are."

Safety glasses are an important consideration that many do-it-your selfers ignore, said Cary Patrick of W. T. Patrick & Sons in Hampton.

"Any time you use a striking tool, you should use safety glasses," said Mr. Patrick. "A nail can fly back and hit you in the eye."

Safety glasses can be purchased for as little as $3 a pair, he said.

"A lot of times, people are injured because of the way they store tools," added Ron Wade of Grafton True Value Hardware. "They don't hang them properly and they fall, or they don't hang them at all and they step on them. A tool can jump up and hit you in the face."

Even a common but annoying problem such as blisters can be prevented by using gloves, said Mr. Wade. Many tools also now come with a foam handle that acts as a blister guard, he said.

Manufacturers also are getting into the safety game. The new Stanley fiberglass and steel hammer contains a warning label that urges consumers to wear safety goggles and not to use it for anything other than driving and pulling nails.

Problems can result from the careless use of tools. People often buy the wrong size screwdriver, said Mr. Mitchell. Choosing one that's too large or too small can cause it to slip off the screw.

A recurring problem is the improper use of chain saws, said Mr. Wade. "They're a lethal weapon in the hands of people who don't know what they're doing," he said. Bob Scheier of Family Health and Safety magazine recommends planning a repair job before you start it. He offers these suggestions:

* Don't push tools too hard. They can wear out and cause injuries.

* Repair or replace power or extension cords. Never use power tools in damp or wet areas.

* Maintain your tools; keep saw blades sharpened.

* Keep hands and legs out of the path of saws, drills and other tools.

* Tie back long hair and remove rings, watches and jewelry that might get caught in the equipment.

* Properly secure any wood you're working with by holding it in place with a vice. Don't hold a piece of wood between your knees or on your lap. It's possible to drill or saw into your body when the tool breaks through the wood.

* Keep your workplace free of clutter to prevent slips or falls.

* Keep children away from the work area. Lock up tools after you use them to keep them clean and out of children's hands.

* Don't start a project when you're tired, rushed or angry. Don't pressure yourself to finish a job.

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