Take a look at any job site in North America and chances are good that you’ll find a power saw—mainly because they’re one of the most commonly used tools. But with great power comes a sizable risk of injury. If the operator takes their eyes off their work for a second, or has a slight slip, it can result in a serious incident.
Safe use of power saws requires an abundance of caution and concentration. Employees who work in an area where power saws are used should be fully trained on best practices and be knowledgeable on potential hazards and dangers.
According to a recent study, over 75,000 serious injuries involving table saws occurred over a two-year period, the majority of which involved blade contact. The best way to minimize incidents for employees is to train them to be acutely aware of active saw blades at all times, minimize their use, and keep as much physical distance from the blade as possible.
But beyond the most obvious issue of saw safety—avoiding contact with the blade—there are several other items to keep in mind if you want to help employees avoid saw-related incidents.
Respect the power
All power tools share a common hazard: the electrical components that give them power. Deteriorating cords, improper grounding, or old and unserviced tools can cause workers to come into contact with electrical hazards. Safety training for power saws should always account for the logistics of when and where the saw is plugged in or charged, and how the power sources and cords are inspected and maintained (and by whom). Safety managers and supervisors should make sure that workers are well-versed in these power saw safety issues:
- Do not place fingers near the start button or trigger when carrying or moving saws
- Keep cords away from heat, oil and sharp edges
- Unplug saws carefully, and do not yank on cords to disconnect
- Always disconnect and power down saws when not in use or when changing blades
- Use a double-insulated three-prong power cord with a ground, as well as a grounded outlet or power bar
- Avoid using an adapter to plug a three-pronged plug into a two-hole outlet
- Never remove the grounding prong from a plug
- Ensure power supply is sufficient and stable
Raise workers’ awareness of these issues by focusing part of power saw training on electrical hazards, and remind them of these issues in toolbox talks, safety meetings and impromptu conversations throughout the day.
Blade care and maintenance
Even in perfect working order, the blade of a power saw is a deadly hazard. But when the blade is chipped, cracked and otherwise damaged or improperly attached, the power saw becomes completely unsafe to work with or around. Due to the high speeds and heavy stress blades are subjected to when in use, the blades could sustain damage at any time. Saw blades should be inspected before and after every use. When a blade is damaged it needs to be labeled as defective (so as not to be used by mistake) and taken out of service/disposed of immediately.
Safety managers and shift supervisors should help workers build the habit of keeping power saws in good condition and implementing a regular maintenance schedule in order to confirm that tools are sharp, clean and organized. To avoid confusion and minimize the margin of error, managers should prescribe a single set of maintenance instructions to staff that pulls relevant information from the manufacturer’s guidelines.
Keep your guard up!
Do employees always have the safety guard attached and in working order when using a power saw? They should. Instruct staff to never, under any circumstances, remove the guard when in use, as an incident is twice as likely to occur if a guard is removed. If maintenance or cleaning requires the removal of the guard, ensure the saw is disconnected from power and the guard is reattached after the task has been completed. If the guard is damaged, the saw needs to be taken out of service immediately until the guard is replaced. Certain saws, such as jigsaws, scroll saws and sabre saws, are often equipped with a control that kills the power when pressure is removed; part of regular maintenance should be checking that the constant-pressure switch is functional.
Keep in mind that employees can become complacent to the risks of power saws over time and may be tempted to remove the guards in certain situations—frequently highlighting the importance of safety guards can help overcome the complacency.
Appropriate clothing and PPE
Workers who operate power saws should always wear PPE and clothing appropriate to the task at hand. This means avoiding loose clothing or accessories that hang from the body. If something gets caught in the saw blade, it could easily pull the worker in and cause injury. Eye protection should always be worn to guard against errant sparks and debris. As with tools, PPE should be regularly inspected and maintained to ensure they are in decent shape to protect workers and minimize incidents.
Secure = Safe!
Many incidents and injuries are sustained when the material being worked on is not secured properly; an unexpected shift in weight or sudden movement can cause the saw operator to slip or lose their balance, potentially resulting in an incident. Workers should be taught to always secure the material when cutting and perform the cut according to proper technique. The best practice is to always plan cuts ahead of time, which includes considering the safest way to cut. The saw operator should always be well balanced and have both hands free to operate the tool.
As with safety guards, employees can become more lax over time with how well they secure the material they’re cutting. Avoid this shift into complacency by offering reminders, and keeping an eye out for signs that material isn’t completely secure, so that you can intervene to address the issue right away.
Power saws are such a common feature in many workplaces that their danger can often be overlooked. One of the best ways to keep workers focused on safely operating power saws is to train them to identify human factors like rushing and fatigue that could cause them to take safety shortcuts. While human factors training may not seem at first to be directly related to power saw safety, it can have a huge impact in reducing saw incidents. By teaching workers to keep their mind on task, and addressing issues like complacency, human factors training may be the additional element that, when combined with the steps above, will power up your saw safety program.