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Using power tools: avoiding the need for RPE during the pandemic

We explain the control measures employers should consider when dealing with shortages of respiratory protective equipment (RPE) during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in our guidance on PPE supply issues.

The control measures include using alternative ways of working to reduce the risk of exposure to hazardous substances.

Putting in place improved control measures may mean that you:

  • no longer need to use RPE
  • can use RPE with a lower assigned protection factor (APF)

This must only be justified based on reduced risk, not the availability of RPE.

For some tasks, there may be no workable alternatives. Other tasks involving, for example, asbestos or respirable crystalline silica, will still require a respirator with an assigned protection factor (APF) of at least 20 even when using water suppression or on-tool extraction.

Listed below are some common construction tasks involving power tools. Select the tool and task for examples of alternative work methods that can reduce the risk of exposure to dust and other hazardous substances.

Tool and task

Power drill or masonry drill – drilling brick and concrete as a main task

  • Infrequent 'one-off' holes as part of maintenance or installation work only require starting with a lower speed/power setting and the use of a passive dust collector
  • Consider direct fastening nails or screws where many holes are required
  • Proprietary rigs will remove the worker from the task
  • Use on-tool extraction for more frequent drilling work

Cut-off saw – cutting concrete slab or pavers

  • Use lower energy equipment like a manual block splitter or a hand saw for aerated concrete or lightweight thermal blocks
  • Limit the number of cuts through careful design and layout 
  • Get material cut off-site and delivered

Also read task information on blocks, paving and flags, roofing tiles and in COSHH Essentials CN6

Handheld pneumatic breaker or jackhammer – breaking out concrete

  • Use a vehicle-mounted breaker with a cab. Keep the doors and windows closed. This also reduces noise and vibration risks
  • Use remote operated breakers so the operator is a distance from any dust. Keep the work area damp
  • Use wet coring methods to create hydraulic bursting holes. Dampen down concrete when removing waste
  • Consider alternatives such as core cutting (stitch drilling), rail mounted cutting and wire cutting systems

Also read COSHH Essentials CN9

Core drill – dry coring as main task

  • Consider using wet coring
  • A supporting rig will provide distance between the worker and the drill

Also read COSHH Essentials CN8

Angle grinder – chasing and grinding concrete or mortar

  • Consider alternative methods like over covering cables with a surface lining or wainscoting
  • Design finishes into shuttering using special moulds
  • Use proprietary joint formers or chemical retarders and power washing for surface preparation to ensure a good concrete bond
  • Avoid floor issues with a self-levelling screed or self-levelling floating floor
  • Use a raised floor system or lay battens in a different direction to avoid high spots or existing old wall beds

Also read task information on chasing and COSSH Essentials CN1 and COSHH Essentials CN2

This page is reviewed regularly and updated to reflect any changes in the guidance.

Page last reviewed: 28 May 2021

Next review due: 30 June 2021