Safety First

Practicing precautions with power tools can save you from a trip to the emergency room

Anyone who enjoys a good Do-It-Yourself project at home can feel a great deal of satisfaction from a job well done. It takes sweat and maybe some tears, but it shouldn’t draw any blood.

Unfortunately, from what Jeff Kenney, MD, has seen, projects taken on without putting safety first have caused all kinds of injuries. As medical director of the St. Joseph’s Hospital Emergency Department at St. Joseph’s/Candler, Dr. Kenney implores all woodworkers, craftsmen, and DIY warriors to protect themselves before jumping in to the next project.

Dr. Jeff Kenney

Precautions for using woodworking machines, saws, and other power tools:

  • Wear safety glasses or goggles (welders will need a special mask)
  • Wear hearing protection
  • Use gloves when handling wood (but remove when your hands are near rotating blades or other moving parts that might catch the bulky fabric)
  • Tie back or secure long hair or a long beard
  • Do not wear loose clothing or accessories that could get caught in the machinery
  • Clamp or secure work pieces when drilling or milling
  • Keep your work area well-lit, clean and clutter-free

“Protective eyewear, typically with three millimeters of polycarbonate, can make potentially devastating injuries almost entirely preventable,” Dr. Kenney says. “Hammering, cutting, or grinding metal are the most common causes of a metal projectile puncturing the eye.”

Most tools have precautions or warning labels printed on their body in some way. Dr. Kenney emphasizes that careless operation of tools can also lead to injury. A nail gun is just one example.

“More than 80 percent of nail gun injuries happen because the operator had a finger on the trigger,” Dr. Kenney says. “This is most common when the gun is set to bump-trip mode, where if the operator is holding down the trigger, the gun fires a nail as soon as its nose bumps against a surface—like your knee! Set the nail gun to sequential mode instead and keep your hand off of the trigger when you're carrying it.”

Even tools without sharp blades or other obvious hazards need to be used cautiously.

“Pressure washer injuries are becoming more common,” Dr. Kenney says. “Most of the ones I've seen involve the hands and feet due to improper footwear like flip flops, or ill-advised use such as rinsing yourself off. Depending on the strength of the water stream, it is possible to cut the skin and even remove flesh.”

Most people, including hobbyists who have created shops in their garage or shed, are aware of at least some of these precautions. But when immersed in getting a project done, not everyone heeds them. 

“Balance your enthusiasm with patience and common sense,” Dr. Kenney says. 

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