Powder-actuated tools are among the most commonly used devices in the sheet metal industry. They can also be among the most dangerous. Because they use explosive power to fasten fixtures, the risk of injury is substantial, especially if the tools are used incorrectly.

Officials from the Sheet Metal Occupational Health Institute Trust (SMOHIT) said it was statistics from health and safety groups showing that machine- and tool-related injuries are among the leading causes of fatalities in the construction industry that lead them to team with manufacturer Hilti Corp. to create a Powder Actuated Tools Safety Training CD-ROM.

"We use a lot of powder-actuated tools in our industry to hang ductwork," said SMOHIT spokesman Gary Batykefer. "You've got people ¿ shooting pins into steel and off of ladders. You have to be aware of what you're doing, your surroundings."

Designed for either classroom or individual use, the interactive CD-ROM teaches sheet metal workers the proper way to use, assemble, take apart and clean powder-actuated equipment.

"We were able to incorporate some of the research we have done" into the risks of the equipment, Batykefer said, adding that the disc also shows how to avoid such problems as tearing a muscle and why it's important to protect your eyes and ears when using the tools.

The computer course focuses on the proper use of the Hilti DX35 and DXA40, two of the most popular powder-actuated tools used in the sheet metal industry. Hilti officials assisted in creating the CD-ROM and training course and will be training SMOHIT's instructors on its use, Batykefer said.

Each CD contains an instructor manual, student manual and competition certificate. Instructors can print the number of copies needed for each class directly from the CD. Workers who complete the course will also receive a certification card from Hilti.

"We're hoping every apprentice who comes through our program will have this card in their pocket," Batykefer said.

He estimated the Sheet Metal Workers International Association (SMWIA) currently has more than 15,000 in its apprenticeship program.

"It's going to be a thing that helps out a lot of young people," he added. "They're indestructible until they get hurt."

When using powder-actuated tools, safety experts offer these tips:

  • Remember, powder-actuated tools operate like a loaded gun and should be treated as such.

  • Wear ear, eye and face protection when using a powder-actuated tool.

  • Select a powder level suitable to do the task, but do not use excessive force.

  • Make sure the muzzle end of the tool has a protective shield to keep fragments from injuring the worker.

If the tool misfires, wait at least 30 seconds before trying to use it again.

(SMWIA and SMACNA founded SMOHIT in 1986 to study the effects of asbestos exposure in the sheet metal industry. Today the organization acts as an information clearinghouse on heath and safety issues, offering training programs, instructional CDs and educational courses on topics such as ergonomics, fiberglass exposure and first aid. For more information about SMOHIT programs, write to 601 North Fairfax St., Suite 250, Alexandria, VA 22314 or call 703/739-7130; fax 703/739-7134 or see www.smohit.org on the Internet.)