Executive Hire News
Executive Hire News
Executive Hire News Executive Hire News
EHN Archives home page
Executive Hire News Executive Hire News
Executive Hire News Executive Hire News Executive Hire News

Green Zone:

Power tools’ green impact

EHN’s Power Tools Specialist Phil Mist assesses the ways in which manufacturers are successfully reducing the environmental impact of their products, and considers the role hirers can play.

Not surprisingly, many of the improvements introduced by power tool manufacturers over the years have been in order to enhance product performance and appearance, and to address Health & Safety issues. However, many developments are also being made with regard to the environmental impact of tools, accessories and, particularly in the case of the batteries used with cordless equipment, their carbon footprint.

Many of the green issues being considered also overlap with Health & Safety matters, with noise being a good example. This is a problem encountered in virtually every workplace, and the use of many portable electric tools, often in confined spaces, can be irritating and may even be dangerous to both the operator and fellow workers in the vicinity. Electric tools have a fan on the end of the armature, intended to pull in air across the motor to keep it cool, and this is the principal cause of noise. This air is then expelled, usually at the front of the tool, sometimes causing dust lying on surfaces to become airborne. So, although doing one job reasonably well, the fan may well have created another problem.

Fans in electric tools more than 20 years old usually looked like a propeller on an old aircraft with piston engines, and were manufactured from aluminium or similar materials. They were efficient in moving large quantities of air, but were also noisy, with most older tools emitting noise levels of more than 90dB(A). Therefore, wearing ear defenders or other hearing protection was a necessity, although, sadly, often ignored by users.

Modern fans on tools are made from polypropylene or other plastic type materials and are typically enclosed in an outer ring. Their blades are less aggressive, may move slightly less air and, consequently, should be less noisy. In addition, improvements to gears and the design of gearboxes, combined with the use of more modern materials, have considerably reduced noise emissions. With the reduction in the two UK Health & Safety noise action levels from 90 and 85dB(A) to 85 and 80dB(A) respectively, the use of quieter tools in the workplace is essential.

Capturing dust at source

Cutting and sanding wood and timber-based materials poses other problems. Dust collection has been a rather hit or miss affair ever since portable electric tools were introduced. Frankly, dust bags and other collection systems were virtually useless. To capture dust, it is necessary to catch it at source, otherwise, within seconds, it will have become airborne. Large particles of dust or wood shavings are relatively easy to collect, but fine dust is virtually impossible to capture successfully. Simply fitting a dust bag to a power tool and blowing dust-laden air, however gently, into it cannot possibly work. To ensure the bag does not burst or blow off the machine, it is necessary to make it from open-weave material. However, by creating tiny holes in the bag, fine dust is allowed to pass straight through. Once airborne, it becomes potentially dangerous to the operator and bystanders. A suitable face mask or, better still, breathing apparatus is essential, but rarely used.

Twenty years ago, removable skirts were fitted to some orbital sanders to increase dust collection. Certain models were supplied with a punch plate and had holes in the base, but they did not work well. It is much more efficient to fit a hose and a dust collection system to a sander, even though at times the hose may prove cumbersome! However, to enable the use of a hose, you need a suitable nozzle on the machine. Whilst these were originally add-ons, they are now standard on many tools. On circular saws, internal shaping of blade guards and the almost total enclosure of the blade can also dramatically improve dust collection. Incidentally, blowing air from the front of jigsaws to create a dust-free cutting line may look impressive, but it may actually increase the amount of dust in the atmosphere and is, therefore, a mixed blessing.

Advances in reducing HAV

The subject of exhaustive coverage in EHN, HAV has become a major talking point within our industry. The strides taken by tool designers to lower vibration have been quite extraordinary, and they are to be applauded. Some brands and models may perform better than others, but all are universally better than their predecessors. One only has to pick up a modern rotary hammer, for example, and then use a 10-year old model to literally feel the difference. No doubt, the technological developments and improvements will continue.

Many modern cordless tools are now powered by Lithium-Ion batteries, and not the traditional, and extremely polluting, NiCad or the slightly less damaging NiMH batteries. The latter two types of battery, but particularly NiCads, are a danger to the environment and, with many millions in circulation in the UK, they are a major cause for concern. Putting NiCad batteries into a landfill site poses a toxic waste problem, with the risk of poisonous heavy metals leaching into the surrounding soil. These may subsequently enter water courses and find their way into the food chain.

There had recently been an initiative co-ordinated by the Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP), a quasi governmental organisation, which had received the backing of several power tool companies to introduce a new battery collection and recycling scheme. However, this has frustratingly just been stopped in its tracks by the withdrawal of previously promised funding from the Government. This is a major disappointment: it is no good talking about the environment and the need for us all to play our part, if the very people urging us to do so then prevent such a scheme from even taking off. We must now wait and see whether the situation changes.

The hire industry has a reputation for paying lip service to the issuing of personal protective equipment (PPE) and its use by customers. It is not enough simply to offer PPE, nor to issue it during the hire of an item of equipment on a sale or return basis.

Whilst PPE is considered to be a last resort by HSE Inspectors, it is nonetheless an essential requirement. Even though the improvements in tool design have been astonishing, hire companies must play their part. Providing correct PPE that is appropriate to the equipment being hired must be made a priority, as is an insistence on customers actually wearing it.

In terms of green issues, today’s power tools are a vast improvement on those from only a few years ago. The workplace environment is undoubtedly better and less hazardous than ever before, but improvements must continue. The manufacturers are playing their part, so the UK hire industry can play a bigger role as well - perhaps starting by helping to safely recycle the old, obsolete power tools and batteries that will be superseded by modern, green machines.

Executive Hire NewsArchivesApril 2008Green Zone › Power tools’ green impact

Executive Hire News
Executive Hire News
Executive Hire News
website designed & produced by Weblinks Advertising LimitedExecutive Hire News
Executive Hire News