Hand tools: COVID-19 health & safety advice

COVID-19 and hand tools are a dangerous combination. Think how easily the virus could be spread from one person to the next and the next… Want to know how often you should clean hand tools during the COVID-19 crisis? Here we outline best recommendations for a responsible cleaning regime and why you should have one. We have taken advice from our Health & Safety Consultant, UK government documents, the FMB, the Construction Leadership Council and a really detailed guide from the Infrastructure Health & Safety Association in Canada.

Recognise hazards and assess risks

COVID-19 typically spreads through coughing and sneezing, personal contact with an infected person, or touching an infected surface and then the mouth, nose, or eyes.

Each person touching a tool is a potential carrier. They may have picked up the virus from somewhere else, or may have early onset of the virus themselves and are not aware.

Proper hand washing

This helps prevent the transfer of the COVID-19 virus from surface to surface, and from the infected surface or material to the hands and then to other parts of the body–particularly the eyes, nose, and mouth. This and 2m distancing are the two guidelines considered to be most effective in combating the risk of infection.

Hands that are visibly soiled or dirty should be washed with soap and water first. Sanitizing is less effective on soiled or dirty hands. Always clean your hands before touching your face or eating, or getting into your vehicle to go home, regardless of other precautions taken.

Cleaning the hand tools that workers will be touching will add another layer of protection.

This is particularly important when tools are shared. The person in charge of the site should take the lead and work with contractors to encourage consistent hygiene practices.

Options to consider for minimising exposure from using shared hand tools

  • Communicate worksite protocols for proper hygiene to ensure all contractors and workers are aware of expectations.
  • Plan for enough tools to be on site (as is practical) so each worker does not need to share.
  • Tools for the sole use of a worker should be labelled with their name.
  • Create drop-off points or ‘transfer zones’.
  • Identify commonly shared tools and store these in a separate toolbox.
  • Provide a label with cleaning instructions at the toolboxes where hand tools are stored, and have washing supplies available for that toolbox.
  • Ideally make one person responsible for cleaning and provide appropriate protection.
  • Recommend daily cleaning of unshared tools and regular cleaning of shared tools immediately after use throughout the day, and at the start of the day before use.
  • Recommend use of gloves as practical.
  • Personal clothing worn at work should also be treated as a potential source of exposure. Place work clothes into a bag before taking home to wash. Ideally, wash suspected clothing separately.

Regular tool cleaning when there is no suspected case of COVID-19 can be accomplished using a soap and water solution, or a commercially available disinfecting hand towel wipe, or by a disinfecting wash. Consider escalating the cleaning protocol in both the frequency and the disinfecting method when more people are expected to touch the tool.

This is the government’s advice on the actual cleaning process, although not specific to construction.

COVID-19 Risk Assessment for construction sites

It is a legal requirement to undertake a separate COVID-19 specific Risk Assessment for each of your building sites. Hand tool management is featured in the HBXL COVID-19 Risk Assessment for builders – both construction sites and offices – in the Health & Safety Xpert 2020 software.

And another thing…

While we’re talking sharing, under no circumstances should PPE, including facemasks or any kind of face covering be shared. Note that sharing mobile phones, tablets, pens etc may risk infection. Also encourage increased hand washing before and after handling not just hand tools, but all equipment, materials, waste and vehicles.

What to do when a worker has been discovered to have symptoms of COVID-19

  • Identify tools and equipment that the worker was recently using.
  • Isolate these tools and equipment for cleansing and disinfecting.
  • Use PPE such as gloves and coveralls to move the tools and equipment, and wash or dispose of the PPE after use.
  • The employer and constructor’s protocols should identify who will clean and disinfect tools and equipment.
  • As more is learned about the COVID-19 virus, new disinfection guidelines may become available that can specify how long the virus can live on surfaces, and if it is appropriate to set equipment aside for a period as a disinfectant procedure.

In addition to isolating and cleansing tools and equipment, inform new contractors and new workers of the protocols, and which tools and equipment are in isolation. Store enough cleaning and disinfecting solutions on site to deal with expected demand.

Also, identify a number of workers that are competent to perform disinfecting protocols. If a worker unexpectedly does not show up for work, contact the worker to learn if they are self-isolating, and if so, enact your control measures to isolate an cleanse areas that may be affected.

Monitor how the cleaning regime is going

  • Verify that the controls that you have put in place are being followed consistently and as planned. Monitor behaviour and practices.
  • Ensure sufficient supplies of cleaning products etc. are readily available, adequate, and accessible.
  • Review your process and identify any opportunities for improvements. Make revisions if new information becomes available that requires a change in process. Government guidelines are evolving. Health & Safety Xpert 2020 will be updated as necessary.

Software to help you manage your compliance

Our Health & Safety Xpert 2020 software contains a range of COVID-19 resources. The new documents have been produced in conjunction with our Health & Safety Consultant, following government guidelines.

  • COVID-19 Building Site Risk Assessment  – all firms with 5 employees or more must record one by law
  • COVID-19 Office Risk Assessment – all firms with 5 employees or more must record one by law
  • COVID-19 Toolbox Talk
  • Company Health & Safety Policy with COVID-19 clauses
  • Pre-Construction Info with COVID-19 clauses
  • Construction Phase Health & Safety Plan with COVID-19 clauses
  • Young Persons Risk Assessment with additional COVID-19 clauses
  • Site rules with COVID-19 instructions
  • Site Induction with COVID-19 instructions

Of course you still have to undertake the health and safety measures, but the software goes a long way to making the process much easier.  You can buy the software outright for £999+VAT or subscribe to it for an annual payment of £399+VAT.

The software does the compliance thinking for you. It matches up-to-the-minute, industry-standard documents (over 150 Risk Assessments, 130 COSHH Assessments, 70 Toolbox Talks, 30 Management documents and three Method Statement templates) to the job! Tell the software what you’re building and the software will tell you what you need to do – filling out much of the paperwork for you.

Next step

If you don’t have Health & Safety Xpert 2020 and want more information, give us a call on 0117 916 7898. If you want to discuss updating your HBXL software then call 0117 916 7892.

Watch the really useful HBXL ‘Power Hour’ video chat with our Health & Safety expert >>