Nonpower Hand Tools

Small Farm and Gardening Safety and Health Series
AEX-790.38
Agriculture and Natural Resources
Date: 
11/20/2015
S. Dee Jepsen, Associate Professor and State Safety Leader, Agricultural Safety and Health, Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering
Jeffery Suchy, Graduate Student and Lecturer, Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering

Farmers and gardeners rely upon nonpower hand tools to complete a variety of tasks including pruning, cutting and mechanical repairs. Considering how commonly hand tools are used in day-to-day tasks, there is often little thought given to safety and their proper selection. A tool may be inappropriately used due to convenience or lack of knowledge regarding its function and use. Hand tools such as pruners are often used in repetitive situations and can lead to both acute and chronic health conditions. A cut or a bruise is an acute condition while arthritis and carpel tunnel syndrome are chronic conditions caused by repetitive motion or improper use.

Safe use begins with selecting the best tool for the particular task and takes into account the physical and physiological conditions of the user. Ergonomics should always be considered, where the best fit between the farmer, task and tool are considered. The tool should fit the task and the hands of the user without causing excess discomfort, contact pressure or awkward postures or positions. Safe use also involves knowing the intended tool’s function and design limitations as well as any maintenance or inspection requirements recommended by the manufacturer.

Four general classifications of nonpower hand tools are driving tools; cutting, pinching and gripping tools; striking tools; and struck or hammered tools.

Driving Tools

Examples

• Wrenches, socket/ratchets, screwdrivers.
 

Appropriate Size and Type

• Use a wrench, adjustable or fixed, for turning a threaded piece (nut, bolt, screw, etc.). 
• Use a longer handle for increased leverage (less force required).
• Use a socket/ratchet for hard-to-reach places and increased efficiency (speed).
 

Safe Use

• Push, twist or pull depending on your body position and strength.
◦ Understand that the tool may be directional.
◦ Be aware of potential slippage.
• Avoid excessive joint bending and twisting during use.
◦ Understand that this can cause fatigue and injury.
◦ Use a power grip when possible.
• Use gloves and/or eye protection as appropriate.
• Clean and lubricate all moving parts.
• Check for worn or misshaped surfaces or edges.
◦ Understand that this can cause a tool to slip unexpectedly.
◦ Understand that this can cause skin abrasions/cuts.
◦ Repair or discard as necessary.
 

Cutting, Pinching and Gripping Tools 

Examples

• Pruners, pliers, snips, scissors, metal shears, utility knives, saws.
 

Appropriate Size and Type

• Use these tools for their mechanical advantage and physical force.
• Use a longer handle for increased leverage (less force required).
• Select handles with rubberized coating if possible.
◦ Be aware that this minimizes abrasions, blisters and vibration.
 

Safe Use

• Make sure all blades are maintained and sharp.
◦ Be aware that dull blades require more force to work and can increase the risk of slips.
• Check for worn or misshaped surfaces or edges.
◦ Understand that this can cause a tool to slip unexpectedly.
◦ Understand that this can cause skin abrasions/cuts.
◦ Repair or discard as necessary.
• Wear gloves to help prevent skin abrasions and blisters.
 

Driving Tools Cutting, Pinching, Gripping Tools

Striking Tools

Examples

• Hammers, hand sledges, axes.

Appropriate Size and Type
• Understand that larger or heavier tools in this group can perform more work per stroke.
• Use a longer handle for increased leverage (less force required).
• Choose a dead shape appropriate to the task.
 

Safe Use

• Use the elbow and shoulder to create a swinging motion.
◦ Understand that the tool may be directional (axe, claw hammer).
◦ Be aware of potential slippage.
• Avoid excessive joint bending during use.
◦ Understand that this can cause fatigue and injury.
• Check for “mushroomed” surfaces and handle damage.
◦ Be aware that this can result in flying projectiles.
◦ Understand that sharp edges can cause skin abrasions/cuts.
◦ Repair or discard as necessary.
◦ Check wooden handles for cracks and tightness.
• Wear eye protection and gloves to protect against flying projectiles and skin abrasions.
 

Struck or Hammered Tools

Examples

• Chisels, nail sets, punches.
 

Appropriate Size and Type

• Be aware that the cutting-edge shape and size of tools in this group vary for specific uses.
• Use a longer handle for greater control.
• Be aware that tools in this group have hardened steel for increased life.
 

Safe Use

• Use only enough force required to complete the task.
◦ Use the appropriate striking tool.
◦ Be aware of the coordination required to avoid striking the hand.
• Check for damaged or “mushroomed” surfaces.
◦ Be aware that this can result in flying projectiles.
◦ Understand that sharp edges can cause skin abrasions/cuts.
• Wear heavy-duty gloves and eye protection to protect against flying projectiles and skin abrasions.
 
 

Striking Tools Struck or Hammered Tools

Common Tool Safety Recommendations

Hammers

Use the right type of hammer for the specific job. Never strike hardened steel surfaces with a steel hammer. To align or loosen steel surfaces, use a soft metal hammer or one with a plastic, wood or rawhide head. Always wear safety glasses to protect the eyes from small pieces of metal that may fly off the hammer or from objects that may fly off object being hit. Inspect all hammers carefully before use to be sure the heads are tight and undamaged. Replace damaged handles; make sure hammers fit the heads properly. Wedge the handle securely in the head and make sure it is free of splinters and cracks.

Pliers

Never substitute pliers for another tool, such as a wrench, to complete a task. Doing so may chew at and damage the bolt heads. Pliers cannot grip nuts and bolts securely, and will slip. Use a vise when cutting wire with pliers. Hold the open end of the wire with a free hand, foot or other means to prevent the cutoff piece from flying through the air.

Screwdrivers

Pick a screwdriver with the right size and type of head for the screw. Make a starting hole for the screw with a nail or a drill. Steady the work piece on a sturdy, flat surface. Never steady the work piece against body parts. Be careful to keep the fingers away from the blade while using a screwdriver. Never use a screwdriver with wet or greasy hands. Do not use a screwdriver to test a battery charge, or to chisel, pry, or punch. For electrical work, turn off the power and use an insulated screwdriver, which will usually have a blue handle.

Pruning Equipment

Use caution when using lopping shears, hand shears, pruning or bow saws, and related pruning tools. Misuse can cause amputated fingers, serious cuts and significant blood loss. In particular, use caution when pruning overhead to avoid being struck by falling limbs or the pruning tool itself. Avoid contact with power lines, which can cause shock and/or electrocution. Store pruning tools in sheaths or in other protective housing units to avoid injury to handlers and dulling of blades.

 

Saws

When using a saw, keep the saw under control and at the end of the stroke, let up on downward pressure. Hold the work piece firmly against the work surface. Never steady the work piece against body parts. Do not use a saw with a dull blade, because it could unexpectedly slip from the work piece. Some saws have adjustable blades, such as a hacksaw, coping saw, keyhole saw or bow saw. Always make sure the blade is taut before using it. Be careful to keep the fingers away from the blade while sawing, and never carry a saw by the blade.

References

• Easy Ergonomics: A Guide to Selecting Non-Powered Hand Tools. Cincinnati, OH: National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), 2004.
• Safety and Health Topics: Ergonomics. Washington, DC: United States Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, n.d. osha.gov/SLTC/ergonomics.
 

Reviewer: Kent McGuire, CFAES Safety and Health Coordinator, Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering
Ohioline http://ohioline.osu.edu