Although we all know intuitively that power tools can be exceptionally dangerous if used without due care and attention, it remains far too easy to fall into the trap of thinking that the ones we’re most accustomed to are somehow made safer by dint of our familiarity with them.
However, numerous eye-opening statistics have been gathered in recent years to indicate pretty definitively that this simply isn’t the case. Organisations such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) regularly compile work accident statistics reports, and of course incidents involving work tools are a particular area of concern to them.
This is hardly surprising, considering that general estimates seem to agree that a rough average of nearly 400,000 tool-related visits to the emergency room are logged each year by employees and home workers.
Many of these studies can make for relatively uncomfortable reading if you’re working with some or all of these tools every day. However, it’s definitely worth keeping an eye on those areas that appear to carry the highest statistical risks, and giving yourself room to exercise that extra bit of caution where needed.
A frequently cited 2009 Forbes report on work tool injuries actually found that non-power hand tools and other manually operated items of equipment accounted for the largest single group of (non-fatal) injuries sustained while using work tools the previous year. It’s worth noting, though, that this is due in large part to it being by far the broadest category – including knives and ladders, two of the most persistent culprits – not to mention the fact that non-power tools tend to boast far fewer built-in safety features and carry fewer warnings than their more powerful big brothers.
Still, despite all the warnings and safety features, power tools were the second most common cause of work-related emergency room visits. Within this subcategory, injuries tended not only to be more serious and damaging in nature, but they also reflected a relatively surprising spread of causes.
Chain saws, you might think, would come out top of the list – and you’d be almost right, as they placed second – but you may be surprised to hear that they actually came in slightly behind the humble nailer in terms of reasons for an unscheduled hospital visit. The growing popularity of nail guns, and therefore our increasingly relaxed familiarity with them, is thought to be among the key factors here. Add in an ever-growing array of powerful quick-fire and auto modes, and it’s easy to see why they’ve been on a steady rise towards the top of the injury tree for the past few years.
Speaking of trees, wood, and chopping, chain saws placed just ahead of table saws, mitre saws and circular saws in the ‘spinning teeth’ category; arguably the one category that combines frequency and severity of accidents to most alarming effect overall. Kickback and binding were cited as regular causes of most non-lethal injuries here, while many of the more serious and even tragic incidents were attributed to improper grip, balance or posture in use. (This latter factor was also a recurring theme in accidents involving power drills, where the percentage of injuries caused by inappropriate or unstable operating posture was even higher.)
A host of other work tools and hardware were each found responsible for smaller percentages of hospital admissions, with regular culprits ranging from ride-on mowers to wood chippers, air compressors and the grit, dust or debris thrown out by a multitude of different tool types in use.
As well as noting the common vectors of injury, though, these reports are just as useful in highlighting the typical demographic breakdowns of when, where and to whom these types of accidents are happening. Interestingly, findings here remain relatively consistent across most developed nations.
Men are, on average, the subjects of over 90% of all work tool-related hospital admissions in a typical year, with the most frequently represented ages being 35-44 year olds. 45-54 is the next most accident-prone age group, with 25-34 year olds placing third. Summer typically sees a far higher incident rate than winter. Of all emergency room admissions caused by work tools, wounds to fingers were by far the most common complaint, then damage to the wider hand area, followed by – and this is worth remembering before starting ANY tool-based job, powered or otherwise – eye injuries. (Serious long-term or irreparable damage was a far more common outcome of damage to eyes than to any other part of the body.)