Safety with Power Tools

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Blog entry by MrRon posted 09-19-2013 10:39 PM 2458 reads 0 times favorited 7 comments Add to Favorites Watch

I would like to begin this discussion on safety by relating a story that I witnessed over fifty years ago. I was living in a suburb of Boston at the time. Winter was setting in. My neighbor directly across the street from me just came home with a brand new snow blower. I was in the house, so I didn’t see what happened, but I did hear what happened. I heard the snow blower running and a minute later an abrupt end of the noise. I sensed something was wrong and looked out the window. My neighbor was kneeling in the snow holding his arm. I could see red coloring in the snow where it had been blown. I went to his aid only to find he was missing all the fingers of his hand. It seems he put his hand down the chute and hit the rotating mechanism. To make a story short, after the ambulance came and took him away, I learned from his wife, he just started the machine as soon as he got it home without reading the manual. He was in a hurry and anxious to see the snow blower in action. He never used that snow blower again. I believe he sold it. Now on to safety.

Safety is a topic that should be on everyone’s mind. Dangers exist all around us. There are many different areas where safety is required, so it is not possible to discuss safety in one area and expect it to apply to other areas. There is safety around power tools; safety around dangerous chemicals; safety around construction sites; safety around electricity; safety in handling food, etc. You get the idea, but I’m going to focus only the former; power tools.

First I would like to discuss how we get injured by power tools before discussing how to be safe around power tools.

Picture someone coming home with a power saw for the first time. He has never used a power saw before and may not have used any type of power tool before. The first thing he does upon removing the saw from its packaging is usually to open the instruction manual, because there are small parts that have to be installed before he can plug it in. Being in a hurry, either because he doesn’t have much free time, or is just anxious to see the saw operate, he passes over the boring parts of the manual, usually the safety warnings and cautions. He goes directly to setting up the saw. He plugs in the saw, grabs a piece of wood and proceeds to cut the wood. At this point, any number of things can go wrong. The wood is damp or warped and pushing it into the blade, causes the kerf to close and the wood gets kicked back hitting him in the gut. If he is lucky, nothing more serious than a bruise will be encountered. More serious accidents can happen, such as getting hit in the eye or cutting off a finger or two. What all this points out is, the person failed to take the most preliminary steps to prevent injury. I won’t read you the safety rules. They are all spelled out in any instruction manual in detail including eye and hearing protection. This is just the first step in safety consciousness.

Safety, to be truly effective must become, in my opinion, second nature. What do I mean by second nature? It is when we can perform a task without thinking about it. Most of us can perform everyday tasks without much thought. We drive our car without thought of when to brake, or how fast to take a turn. We automatically react when danger is present. These tasks have become embedded in our brain through experience. We no longer have to think about it. Racing drivers have this second nature; so too are airline pilots, Navy Seals and anyone who must observe safety in their everyday lives. Safety is not inborn. It has to be learned.

Safety is a two part process. It can’t be learned from a book, but it is the first place to start. For it to become second nature, it has to be experienced. Anyone who has lost a finger in a saw accident has experienced the second part of safety awareness. Through his experience, it’s almost a certainty the same accident will never be repeated. That is a severe way to learn, but it does happen to various degrees. Just a small nick with a saw blade may be enough of a wake-up call for you to be more cautious. Although I don’t endorse the Saw Stop, it does provide someone with little experience around power tools to learn safety. My only concern; is a small nick enough to instill safety or to ignore it in the future?

I emphasize experience as being the ultimate teacher. Does that mean we have to lose a finger to learn safety? Certainly not; there are millions of people who work with dangerous tools and machines who still have all ten fingers, their eyesight and any other necessary parts of their bodies. How do they do it? These people are not reckless. They learned at an early age to learn and respect dangerous tools and machines. A calm spirit, an inquiring mind and a gentle nature works well. Someone who is always in a rush is someone who can easily get into trouble.

In closing, I would like to present an idea. Schools, from primary all the way up to high school and beyond should have a safety course as a mandatory subject.

7 comments so far

View doubleDD's profile


10509 posts in 3200 days

#1 posted 09-20-2013 01:15 AM

Great topic, MrRon. How so true this is. I agree with you totally about a safety course at an early in school.

-- Dave, Downers Grove, Il. -------- When you run out of ideas, start building your dreams.

View MarkSr's profile


215 posts in 3207 days

#2 posted 09-20-2013 04:24 AM

Totally do not disagree with anything you just wrote. Excellent.

I have two safety rules, never to brake, I have and learned the hard way.

1. Pay attention to everything you are doing at the present time. (35 yrs. ago I was building a tool carry all box, when cutting a piece on the TS, someone called me and I turned to see who it was at the same time I was feeding the board into the blade. Almost lost the top of the thumb from below the nail).

2. Wear Proper Clothing this was this year, I was jointing a piece of board and had on a pair of gloves. Now these gloves are the ones I use to get fire wood. Not the form fitting ones that I normally ware, why because they were close to me, instead of going into the shop and getting the right gloves. Anyway halfway through the board the glove got caught on the corner of the blade and pulled my hand towards the blade and the tip of my thumb was gone, the same thumb of 35 yrs. ago.

Two stupid mistakes, one not paying attention and the second to lazy to get the proper form fitting gloves on.
Hope this helps alone the line.

Safety courses are a must, especially in shop classes and also all through out the school year of everyday life.

That’s all I’m saying.

-- Mark, ”...NEWBEE: On the road to learning a lot; but; a lot more to learn…” ("My Granddad used to tell me, if you didn't learn something new today, it just wasn't worth getting out of bed")

View Bogeyguy's profile


548 posts in 3225 days

#3 posted 09-20-2013 02:13 PM

A word to all!! Never ever wear gloves when using any type of power equipment. Never, never, never!!!!!! I don’t care how long you have been using a power tool or how careful you think you are being, this is a BIG no no. Seriously!!!

-- Art, Pittsburgh.

View DIYaholic's profile


19921 posts in 3832 days

#4 posted 09-20-2013 07:03 PM

Ditto: Bogeyguy!!!

”Someone who is always in a rush is someone who can easily get into trouble.”

To say one does not have the time to work safely….
Is the same as saying, they have time for a trip to the hospital!!!

Safety is a lifestyle choice, that I am proud to exercise!!!

-- Randy-- I may not be good...but I am slow! If good things come to those who wait.... Why is procrastination a bad thing?

View CryptKeeper's profile


132 posts in 4108 days

#5 posted 09-21-2013 04:41 PM

MrRon, great topic. The only thing I would like to caution on is a task becoming so second nature you get the complacency effect. You have done something so many times that you stop thinking and bam you just lost a finger or worse.

I worked as meat cutter for many years and I can’t count the number of fingers I’ve seen lost by experienced people who got in the ‘zone’ and stop thinking about the task at hand.

I now work in an industry where we have mandatory quarterly and annual safety classes. Yet, 90% of the accidents are by seasoned pro’s who got complacent. The last big one was a guy with 19 years’ experience who lost a leg unjamming a conveyor belt (the gears are 5 feet in diameter). He had done it so many times that he didn’t see any point in turning off the breaker and using a lockout tag. He grab the pry bar jumped in freed the chain and yelled all clear as he was existing; the other guy heard all clear and hit the start button. He was pulled into the gear sprocket and his leg was crushed off. He knew better but he was complacent.

I agree there isn’t any substitute for experience but paying attention and thinking have to be a part of the equation.

-- Ron - Any day that I don't learn something new is a wasted day.

View MrRon's profile


6089 posts in 4401 days

#6 posted 09-21-2013 07:25 PM

Complacency is indeed a concern. Once that point has been reached is the time to re-evaluate your safety standards. Standards do change all the time and may require safety training to keep up with new technology. Was the person who lost the leg a meat cutter? If he was, he was working in an area he was not familar with. Complacency can effect everyone. You drive a car for 20 years without an accident and all of a sudden you ignore something you have always done and BAM an accident. Failing to look over your shoulder when changing lanes has caught me several times. Fortunately, I saw the other vehicle in time and saved myself and the other person. We really have to stay focused on what it is we are doing at all times. Sometimes that is not so easy to do. Someone who otherwise is a good driver in emotional distress can cause an accident. I was once rear ended by a man. He told me his wife had just died and he wasn’t thinking straight.

View CryptKeeper's profile


132 posts in 4108 days

#7 posted 09-22-2013 05:52 AM

No, he wasn’t a meat cutter (I’m still laughing) I left that stage of my life about 14 years ago. I now work in commercial food processing and the conveyor moves palletized cases of frozen product. What we see is more in the area of repetitive activities doing something over and over again until they just don’t think about it and then there is a serious accident.

The last serious accident I witnessed as a meat cutter was a guy with more than 25 years experience cutting meat. He was cutting a frozen leg of lamb (totally against policy) reaching across the bandsaw blade with his right arm, the blade hit the bone and the whole thing rolled forcing his forearm into the blade cutting halfway through the bone – he had done it a hundred times before but he just wasn’t paying attention.

-- Ron - Any day that I don't learn something new is a wasted day.

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