Residential construction is not as dangerous as, say, timber cutting or commercial fishing. Nevertheless, the average construction site can be a formidable place. Government data show that construction is one of the leading industries for workplace accidents and injuries.

Workers can fall from scaffolding or be hit by objects. They may also injure themselves when they misuse power tools. As a result, the Power Tool Institute (PTI) in Cleveland is focused on promoting proper power tool usage and on maintaining high standards of safety in the industry.

Circ de saw

According to PTI, the circular saw is probably the most commonly used power saw and perhaps the most commonly abused. The group makes the standard recommendations--safety goggles, safety glasses with side shields, dust masks--but it also warns against saws that are too heavy to control and switches that do not turn on properly. Manufacturers have responded, adding ergonomic features that make the saws lighter and more comfortable to hold and to operate.

Chicago-based Skil also looks at industry-wide accident reports and consumer demand when adding safety features to its tools. "[Safety] is at the heart of our design," says marketing director Tim Brasher. As an example, Brasher points to Skil's 18-volt 5800 circular saw. The saw has a side-mounted battery for comfort and balance and features a safety lock switch that requires two fingers to operate; this eliminates accidental starts on the jobsite, he says. The tool has an anti-snag guard that helps prevent jams when cutting thin material, a built-in work light, a rear-view blade depth with a 2x4 icon, and a GripRight multi-position handle. "It can be used easily by a person who is left-handed or right-handed," Brasher says.

Norcross, Ga.-based Hitachi Power Tools also is eyeing user safety and comfort in its new reciprocating saw. The manufacturer boasts that its 18-volt product has the longest stroke in its class and says the saw also has a lock-off button that stops the switch from being unintentionally turned on. For user comfort, the trigger is large enough to be operated with two fingers, even when the tool is upside down.

Dust up

Wood dust on a jobsite is another hazard, so PTI recommends using an exhaust-type system or bag collection on sanders. Dust can explode if the concentration becomes too great, the group says. There are other dangers. According to the December 2002 "Tenth Report on Carcinogens," by the Department of Health and Human Services, a "strong and consistent" association with nasal cancer was observed in studies of people whose jobs are associated with wood dust exposure.

Fortunately, manufacturers have improved dust collection on their tools. Elyria, Ohio-based Ridgid recently released its first line of professional power tools that includes various sanders with more efficient dust-collection systems. A screw-on dust bag dumps the debris into the center of the bag for greater holding capacity, and an adapter allows the units to be hooked to a vacuum.

Chicago-based Bosch Power Tools' 5-inch random orbit palm sanders have a new Microfilter system that traps dust particles up to 60 times smaller than a human hair. "The sanders have a constant response circuitry resulting in optimum dust collection," says Peter Domeny, Bosch's director of product safety. The constant response circuitry monitors torque demand and instantly delivers more power when needed. It also protects against tool overload, the company says.

Of course, safety features on tools work best if users observe proper safety and operating procedures. The tool industry advises workers to choose the most comfortable and easy-to-control tool and to read and follow all operating instructions. It can mean the difference between a safe work site and a dangerous one.

Courtesy Skil

Skil game: The model 5800 7 1/4-inch Skilsaw has 18 volts for power and a side-mounted battery for comfort and balance. A safety lock switch requires two fingers to operate, eliminating accidental starts on the jobsite, and an anti-snag lower guard prevents jams. The tool's GripRight handle allows right- and left-handed users to operate it with equal ease. Skil. 773-286-7330.

Courtesy Hitachi

Master stroke: The 18-volt reciprocating saw has an output of 380 watts and has the longest stroke in its category, the manufacturer says. Designed for one-handed, tool-less blade changes, the CR18DV has a lock-off button that prevents unintentional starts and a trigger switch that can be operated comfortably with two fingers, even when the tool is upside down. Hitachi. 800-829-4752.

Courtesy Ridgid

Outer orbit: This 5-inch random orbit sander has an efficient system that dumps the dust into the center of the bag for greater holding capacity. It has an electronic speed control, operates at 7,000 to 12,000 rpm, and has a 3-amp motor. Ergonomically designed, the tool has a sealed slide switch for easy operation. Ridgid. 800-474-3443.

Courtesy Bosch Power Tools

Isle of palm: The 1295D random orbit palm sander has an aggressive stock removal rate so it reduces work time, the company says. It has a 2-amp, 12,000-rpm motor and a dust-filtering system that functions like that of a car. The tool traps dust particles that are 60 times smaller than a human hair, the company says. Bosch Power Tools. 877-267-2499.

Courtesy DeWalt

Playing the angles: The D28474W 7-inch angle grinder has a 15-amp, 4-horsepower motor and offers 8,000 rpm with 100 inch/pounds of torque for improved productivity. Ergonomic features include a wheel guard that does not need tools to be adjusted, a small-diameter rear handle for better grip, and a trigger switch with two-finger lock-on to minimize finger strain. DeWalt. 800-433-9258.

For more product information, visit ebuild, Hanley-Wood's interactive product catalog.

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Chicago, IL.