Using PPE with power tools

May 14, 2018 6 min read

Using PPE with power tools

Using PPE with power tools

A blog post about the use of PPE with power tools. I get it, PPE it’s not as exciting as the latest power drill release from Makita or DeWalt or a write up about the latest router on the market that you’ve been saving for. But one thing I imagine we would agree on is that PPE does prevent many thousands of accidents each year.

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (ROSPA) issued a top 10 list of the tools most likely to land handymen in casualty. It said power tools resulted in an estimated 87,000 injuries, and the top offenders for causing power tool accidents were:

  1. Grinders (6,500);
  2. Power drills (3,000);

In this blog post I want to highlight which types of PPE to use with Power tools and when to use them. Before we jump in let’s look at common types of injuries when using power tools.


Common types of injuries when using power tools

Electrocution and shocks – One thing many power tools have in common is electricity. This can lead to shocks and electrocution if tools are faulty or misused.

Eye Injuries – Debris, dust, sparks and splinters can all be kicked up and strike the eyes whilst using power tools.

Injuries caused from trips slips and falls – Many power tools have electrical leads that can cause tripping hazards. Power tools powered by petrol can cause a slip hazard if there has been a leak.

Hand injuries – Often caused by rotating parts and drill bits.


Types of PPE to use with power tools

Eye and face protection:

Protecting the eyes when using power tools is extremely important. Due to the high levels of speed that many power tools exert (grinders and power drills as an example) debris can be kicked up at extremely high speed, turning them into mini bullets. Get a chip of concrete in your eye and you’ll certainly know about it and most likely be off to A + E.

As a minimum, we would always recommend wearing protective goggles when using power tools to combat this problem. In many cases we would also advise donning a full-face shield over the top of your goggles for additional protection, especially when carrying out jobs that create hot particles such as grinding on metal.

Safety glasses are great for many hazards and for use with some hand tools, but we would not recommend them for use with power tools. Flying debris can easily by-pass round the sides, above and below the lens. We also would not recommend using a visor on its own either, but rather in conjunction with safety goggles.

safety goggles with power tools

Hand protection:

When it comes to protecting the hands from power tools the most important thing to remember is that tool guards are in place and all safe working procedures are strictly adhered too. PPE is the last resort. I say this because no glove however good it may be, is going to stop a circular saw or mitre saw in full throttle.

That been said safety gloves certainly have a role to play when using power tools. Each power tool or activity should be assessed individually to see what type of hand protection will be required. There are many types of glove on the market today, including cut resistant, leather and chainmail.

Anti-vibration gloves can also be purchased, but we would add a note of caution. See the excerpt below from the HSE:

“Gloves marketed as ‘anti-vibration’, which aim to isolate the wearer’s hands from the effects of vibration, are available commercially. There are several different types, but many are only suitable for certain tasks, they are not particularly effective at reducing the frequency-weighted vibration associated with risk of HAVS and they can increase the vibration at some frequencies. It is not usually possible to assess the vibration reduction provided in use by anti-vibration gloves, so you should not generally rely on them to provide protection from vibration. However, gloves and other warm clothing can be useful to protect vibration-exposed workers from cold, helping to maintain circulation.

Low hand or body temperature increases the risk of finger blanching because of the reduced blood circulation”

Ear protection:

Noise levels are measured in decibels (often shortened to dB) and there are hand held meters you can use to ascertain what the decibel level is in an area. At 80dB it is advisable to wear hearing protection, at 85dB it is compulsory. To see how noisy a power tool is you should check the documentation that it came with.

Noise induced hearing damage is preventable. There are two types of ear protection available, ear defenders and ear plugs. The vast majority of power tools are very noisy and so it would be advisable to use defenders / muffs as opposed to foam plugs, as generally they give a higher level of protection.

Ear defenders come with a SNR (Single Number Rating). This is how it works:  

If your power tool gives a noise output of 90 decibels and your ear defenders have a SNR of 30db, reduce the 30 from the 90 and that gives you a noise level of 60db.

As a side note Ear protection is one area where overkill is not always the best option. Here’s what HSE say:

“Protectors that reduce the level at the ear to below 70 dB should be avoided, since this over-protection may cause difficulties with communication and hearing warning signals. Users may become isolated from their environment, leading to safety risks, and generally may have a tendency to remove the hearing protection and therefore risk damage to their hearing.”

personal protection equipment PPE

Respiratory protection:

It's vital to protect your respiratory system from contaminants that can be kicked up into the atmosphere when using power tools. Sanding and grinding tools are common offenders here.

Types of respirators available:

Disposable – one-time use face masks for use with dust, mists, fumes and nuisance level gasses / vapours
Half face – respirator that covers the nose and mouth and comes with replaceable filters
Full face – respirator that covers the nose and mouth and comes with replaceable filters and gives additional protection to the face and eyes.

The type of respirator you select will depend less on the power tool and more on the environment you are working in.

Safety footwear:

It’s great to wear safety boots for the obvious reasons, like protection against dropping a drill on your foot or standing on a rusty old nail. But what I want to particularly talk about is slip resistance. When working with power tools that run on petrol there is always a risk of slips if there has been a leak, or there may be a general risk of slipping due to the area you are working in. Safety boots come with codes that denote different features. The ones to look out for when purchasing boots are SRA, SRB and SRC. These codes relate to slip resistance.

This is what they mean:

SRA – tested on ceramic tile wetted with dilute soap solution

SRB – tested on smooth steel with glycerol

SRC – tested under both the above conditions.

 safety work wear boots steel toe caps

It’s also possible to purchase boots that come with electrically insulated soles. We would highly recommend these for use with electrical tools.


Something that is often overlooked when using power tools is the type of clothes you are wearing. It is best to cover any exposed areas like forearms and legs when using power tools. I know you’re thinking what about when it’s a red-hot day, Sorry about that but this is a PPE post after all 😊!

If you are using a tool that kicks up sparks or causes a potential fire hazard, we would also recommend fire resistant clothing as an added precaution. You can’t go wrong with a set of fire retardant overalls.

If you have long hair it is also be advisable to tie your hair up or wear a net to prevent sparks flying in there or your hair getting caught in the power tool.

 work wear overalls safety clothing

Tips on keeping your tools in good condition

  • Regularly inspect tools to make sure they are in good shape and fit for purpose.
  • Keep people not involved with the work, a safe distance from your work area
  • Avoid carrying a tool by the cord or hose
  • Avoid yanking the cord or the hose to disconnect it from the socket
  • Keep cords and hoses away from heat, oil, and sharp edges
  • Disconnect tools when not using them, before servicing or cleaning them, and when changing accessories such as blades, bits, and cutters
  • Secure work with clamps or a vice where applicable, freeing both hands to operate the tool
  • Avoid accidental starting. Do not hold fingers on the switch button while carrying a plugged-in tool
  • Maintain tools with care. keep them sharp and clean for best performance
  • Follow instructions in the user's manual for lubricating and changing accessories
  • Be sure to keep good footing and maintain good balance when operating power tools
  • Remove all damaged portable electric tools from use and tag them: "Do Not Use"
  • Avoid carrying tools up a ladder by hand. Instead, use a bucket or bag to hoist tools from the ground to the worker.
  • Keep floors dry and clean to avoid slipping while working with or around dangerous tools.
  • Do not use electric tools in wet conditions unless they are approved for that use.

Thank you for reading this post and stay safe. 


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