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Using site tools and equipment safely

Date posted: 3 August 2015

Site safety should be at the top of any site manager's list of priorities, with the core aim of minimising the risks to workers and anyone who needs to visit the site. Obviously once power tools and equipment are brought onto site, specific safety considerations are required to ensure the safety of everyone operating the tools or working in the immediate vicinity.

The site manager, or the person designated as responsible for safety, must undertake a risk assessment for each part of a job and then plan practical steps to manage any health and safety risks they have identified – whether the task involves clearing up and disposing of waste; lifting building materials; working at height; or any other jobs. From the very first day of your build project you as the site manager / self builder will need to have all the relevant posters, information leaflets and signs ready for your workers, and you will want to ensure anyone operating tools and machinery has the competence and confidence to do so safely. You will need to have taken many other preparatory steps too, such as buying the necessary protective clothing, hiring or buying the appropriate tools and equipment, creating an accident book, and putting together a well-stocked first aid kit to respond in the event of any accidental injuries.

Perhaps the most comprehensive support resource for all of these tasks is the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which offers extensive information online about responsibilities and common hazards, plus links to free, downloadable leaflets on a wide variety of specific topics. To get you started, however, we have put together a brief summary of some of the essentials involved in using site tools and equipment safely.

Accident book & first aid kit

In order to comply with the Data Protection Act, you must have an accident book with perforated pages to enable you to file away accident notes rather than leave them for everyone to view. You also need to ensure you have an easily accessible HSE-compliant first aid kit to deal with potential on-site injuries. Various suppliers offer these in different sizes to cater for the number of workers you have on your site. You also need to ensure it is placed in a visible location that everyone on site is made well aware of.

Safe clothing

Site clothing should be weather-dependent, comfortable and offer a good range of deep, zipped pockets for storing pencils, phones and tape measures. Trousers with ready-made pockets for knee pads are ideal for those working on floors. Gore-Tex material is ideal for winter work because it is breathable yet waterproof. High-visibility / hi-vis jackets are vital for all construction workers, helping – as the name suggests – to make everyone on site highly visible and aware of one other’s positions. If you are working in colder, winter conditions there are fleece-lined or jacket versions available at higher prices.

Footwear

Whereas in the past construction workers would usually have had to wear heavy, steel-capped boots to protect their feet on site, now manufacturers have designed alternatives that weigh a lot less and provide a far greater level of comfort. These trainer- or hiker-style boots incorporate steel toe caps for protection but couple this with a far more flexible sole and light weight upper – making them a lot less tiring to wear.

Ear defenders

Many of the power tools and equipment used on site, such as demolition hammers / breakers, produce a lot of noise, so a pair of well-fitting ear defenders is essential to prevent potential hearing loss or damage. Add packs of disposable foam ear plugs to your safety kit for those who are not actually operating the equipment but are working nearby.

Eye protection

Construction sites can present a number of possible eye hazards including dust and flying debris. Make sure the eye protection you choose offers the right combination of impact/dust/splash/molten metal eye protection for the task, and that it fits the user snugly.

Masks and respirators

The majority of power tools generate some fine dust which, if inhaled, can prove hazardous. As is the case with gloves, you will need to choose the appropriate type of dust mask or respirator for each specific task. When purchasing these you will need to check the filter capacity and intended use, which is indicated on the label.  Individual manufacturers’ websites should offer you all the information you need to select the right type of respirator or mask.

Protective gloves

The chances are you will need a range of different types of gloves to suit different tools and tasks. Many power tools such as angle grinders should only be operated whilst wearing sturdy work gloves. There are other tools, however, that require a higher degree of manual dexterity in order to work accurately, such as some drills and nailers, in which case fingerless gloves may offer the best solution. Cheap, disposable latex gloves are great for messy but non-hazardous work such as painting; gripper gloves featuring a woven, rubberised pattern on the palm are ideal for moving timber and many other materials; and heavy-duty leather gauntlets offer superb protection for rough groundwork. There are plenty of other types, too – such as gel-padded pairs which reduce the effects of vibrating tools, and Teflon gloves designed for working with abrasive materials.  You will need to assess each job before you choose the ideal type for the task, and then make sure you have all the types you need ready in the right quantity.

Head protection

A construction site is designated as a 'hard hat area' so you will need to ensure each of your workers has a comfortable hard hat to wear at all times which conforms to the general EN397 safety standard. Basic four-point harness models can be purchased very cheaply, but it may be worth investing a bit more in a more comfortable six-point harness version with a rain channel to prevent rain running down the back of your neck.

Power tool safety

Inspection and maintenance is key when it comes to power tool safety, as well as keeping the manufacturer's instructions with each piece of kit and only using items that are intended for the task in hand. All tools should be checked regularly to ensure they are in good condition, replacing damaged power cords and ensuring blades are sharp, and so forth. Anyone operating the equipment must be trained or competent to do so, and familiar with the safety and operating instructions. You should unplug tools from the electricity supply before undertaking any adjustments, or in the case of cordless power tools remove the battery first. Before cutting materials, ensure that the work is firmly fixed and does not have any nails, screws or loose knots. Make sure everyone is aware that guarding should never be removed from any tool, as it is there for good reason to protect the operator. And, finally, keep your work area tidy and clear of debris to avoid creating slip and trip hazards.

Find out more from the HSE.

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