Puncture injury from hardened steel hammer

A WorkSafe reminder about the risks of using hardened steel tools on hardened steel. The reminder is for employers. It may also benefit others with workplace health and safety duties.



An employee was working as an underground drill operator. He was injured when he used a hardened steel hammer to strike a hardened steel drill shank. The employee was trying to separate jammed drill consumables by striking the shank. He was hurt when the hammer shattered on impact. Steel fragments hit one of the employee's legs, penetrating 4 cm. He required surgery to remove the fragments.

Safety issues

Using hardened steel tools on hardened steel can cause the steel to shatter or splinter. Steel fragments can fly off at high speed and cause injuries or death. Anybody in the vicinity of the flying steel is at risk.

Workers arm showing 2 puncture injuries sustained in an industrial accident.
Figure 1: Flying steel fragments punctured an employee's leg when a hardened steel hammer shattered. The fragments were 4 cm deep and had to be surgically removed.
Specimen jar holding 2 steel fragments.
Figure 2: Surgically removed fragments from the face of a hardened steel hammer.

Recommended ways to eliminate or reduce risks

The risks from steel-on-steel impact and flying steel fragments must be controlled. The following controls may help manage the risks:

  • Ensure hazards related to hardened steel tools have been identified and their risks assessed.
  • Where possible, do not use hardened steel tools to loosen steel parts. Use other methods for tasks that require striking or other impact to loosen parts.
  • It may be necessary to use tools such as hammers to hit hardened steel. In such cases, ensure the striking tool is a softer material, for example, a mild steel or copper hammer.
  • Have regular inspections of steel tools and implements. Look for signs of damage or excessive wear. Replace damaged or worn equipment.
  • Ensure employees wear appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE). Appropriate PPE includes, for example, eye protection, gloves and long-sleeved clothing.

Employers must provide employees with the necessary information, instruction, training or supervision they need to work safely. This includes when working with plant such as hardened steel hammers.

Consult with employees and independent contractors

Employers must consult with employees and independent contractors about things that affect or are likely to affect the employees. They must also consult with any health and safety representatives (HSRs). This includes when identifying, assessing, and controlling risks. Employees and independent contractors can provide important information about what risks look like in their work. This will help ensure all aspects of risk are considered.

Legal duties

Employers have duties under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004. Their duties include the following:

  • Providing and keeping a working environment that is safe and without risks to health.
  • Providing and maintaining plant and systems of work that are safe and without risk to health.
  • Providing employees with information, instruction, training or supervision. Employers must meet a standard when fulfilling this duty. They must provide what is necessary for employees to work safety.
  • Ensuring people who are not employees are not exposed to risks from the employer's conduct.
  • Consulting with employees and HSRs.

Employers must fulfil these duties so far as is reasonably practicable.

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