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Check the BSA’s tool-use guidelines before your next service project

Hey, you with the post-hole digger! Let me see some ID!

When it comes to service projects, nobody does it better — or safer — than the Boy Scouts.

But before you gather equipment for your next Good Turn, ask yourself some questions:

Can my 14- and 15-year-old Boy Scouts use lawnmowers and string trimmers to cut the grass at the local church?

Can my 16- and 17-year-old Venturers use a chain saw and log splitter to cut firewood for elderly residents?

In this case, the answer is no and no.

That’s why it’s critical to follow the Age Guidelines for Tool Use and Work at Elevations or Excavations, a new document that details how old Scouts should be to use certain hand tools and power tools at service projects (including Eagle Scout service projects).

I’ve got complete details below.

Why these guidelines exist

BSA national health and safety guru Richard Bourlon and his team of volunteers and professionals created these simple, clear guidelines to align the BSA with other youth-serving and service organizations.

“Habitat for Humanity gave us great feedback on their experiences” with youth-work restrictions, Bourlon tells me. He also consulted the U.S. Department of Labor.

In other words, these guidelines didn’t come out of thin air. They’re the work of hours of analysis meant to prevent injuries.

Protective equipment

Before starting any project, make sure everyone is properly outfitted with personal protective equipment, such as work gloves, safety glasses, helmets, earplugs or earmuffs, steel-toed shoes, protective aprons, and/or safety face shields.

Each tool will have manufacturer-recommended safety gear, so check the product manual if you aren’t sure whether to require safety glasses, for example.

OK for all Scouts

These tools are approved for all Scouts to use during service projects, but use safety gear when appropriate:

  • Leaf/grass rake
  • Hoe
  • Shovel
  • Hand clipper (small)
  • Manual screwdriver
  • Nail hammer
  • Hand-operated saws (for Scouts with Totin’ Chip)
  • Trowel
  • Hose spray washer
  • Wood sanding block (handheld)
  • Wood chisel (for Scouts with Totin’ Chip)
  • Pocketknife (for Scouts with Whittling Chip or Totin’ Chip)
  • Axes and hatchets (for Scouts with Totin’ Chip)

OK for Scouts age 14 and older

The guidelines recommend that Scouts be 14 or older to use the following during service projects (with proper safety gear):

  • Pickaxe
  • Mattock
  • Post-hole digger
  • Wheel cart (1, 2-, or 4-wheeled)
  • Paint roller with extension pole
  • Screwdriver (electric)
  • Handheld sander (small)
  • Cutting tools (such as a Dremel, small)
  • Paint sprayer (small, less than 50 psi)
  • Small, handheld power drills (electric)

OK for Scouts age 16 and older

The guidelines recommend that Scouts be 16 or older to use the following during service projects (with proper safety gear):

  • Residential lawnmower (self-propelled or riding)
  • Commercial lawnmower (push, self-propelled, or riding)
  • Line trimmer (electric or gas-powered)
  • Edger (electric or gas-powered)
  • Leaf/grass blower (electric or gas-powered)
  • Hedge trimmer (electric or gas-powered)
  • Belt sander (plug-in or cordless)
  • Pressure washer (50 to 100 psi)

OK for adults only (age 18 and up)

If a service project requires any of the following, that’s OK. But their use should be by adults only (18 and up), according to the guidelines:

  • Circular, reciprocating, jig, or radial saw
  • Band and scroll saws
  • Router/planer
  • Chain saws
  • Log splitters
  • Wood chippers

Items not listed here

If something isn’t in the list, start by consulting the owner’s manual for the product. And remember that No. 1 of the Sweet Sixteen of BSA Safety is “Qualified Supervision.”

Qualified meaning an adult familiar with the tool is present, and supervision meaning those qualified adults are actively supervising the use of the tools.

Working at heights and elevations (ladders, scaffoldings)

  • Step stools: OK for any age, as long as they have one or two steps and the total height is 4 feet or less
  • Above 4 feet: Ladders up to 6 feet are OK for youth age 14 or older
  • On scaffolds (above 4 feet): Age 18 or older only
  • Open platforms (above 4 feet) with proper fall protection: Age 18 or older only

Source material

Read the complete guidelines on this PDF.

And check out these Service Project Planning Guidelines (PDF).

What do you think?

Do these guidelines match what your unit already does? How do you enforce safety guidelines at service projects? Leave your thoughts below.

88 Comments on Check the BSA’s tool-use guidelines before your next service project

  1. scoutermark // May 1, 2012 at 12:12 pm // Reply

    While I understand the guidelines, it seems weird that scouts can’t use carpentry-style power tools for service projects, when we encourage them to learn to use them when completing Woodwork merit badge.

    • Mark,

      Richard Bourlon’s response to that: “We consider the program (Welding MB, for example, which requires welding) to be vocational in nature. Vocational programs use someone with the knowledge (in our case a vetted Merit Badge Counselor) to oversee the learner.”


      • Bob White // May 1, 2012 at 6:41 pm // Reply

        That’s a complete and cowardly cop-out, as its no secret that Woodworking/Woodcarving/Welding/Watersports and a host of other merit badge counselors for a host of other “dangerous” merit badges very often are approved without having any professional licenses, or even a woodworking vocation. Remember, “a Scout is Trustworthy”–just tell the truth and say that fear of liability drove this decision.

  2. Mike Kost // May 1, 2012 at 12:17 pm // Reply

    So, High Ropes courses are out for youth since they have ladders higher than 6 feet and platforms with no railing?

    • Mike,

      Remember, these guidelines apply to service projects only.


      • Larry G, UC // May 1, 2012 at 2:05 pm // Reply

        I read the .pdf in it’s entirety and only found two references to “projects” in the first sentence. No references to “Service Projects” or “Eagle Service Projects” are found anywhere. I’m finding it hard to understand how Scouts and Scouters are supposed to make the connection that this document is intended to apply to their service projects?

        The notes on the last page under fall protection refer to Pioneering projects which could very well only add to confusion and misinterpretation as to where this new publication is intended to be used and where it is applicable.

        A succinct statement of intent or definition of scope at the beginning of this document would have helped eliminate any confusion or misinterpretation.

        • Honestly a lot of national policy is pretty vague, but I’d rather it be that way because it allows for scouts to have more operating room. Outside of safty rules, I believe that scouts should be able to have as much fun and be as productive as they can with out a policy that’s too strict, ruining it for them because someone hates lawsuits. My 5 cents

        • AntelopeGeo // May 1, 2012 at 11:48 pm //

          You raise a good point, Nick. National does leave a lot of policy vague. It troubles me that National would endorse something so specific, and curiously tilted. As has been suggested on this forum, some (if not many) of these guidelines are ridiculous! A great example is needing to be 14 to use a wheelbarrow.

          As a a Y-P and BSLST trainer in my council, this puts me in an interesting position: the council I serve in has sincere efforts to meet National’s standards, but I can think of many Eagle Service Projects I’ve participated in with scouts in my unit that would be impossible if these guidelines existed then. Does this mean I have to eternally play the role of “Debbie-Downer” to support regulations I don’t agree with? No question at all that safety is #1, but I think that a reality check may be in order.

      • And where does that leave all the service projects the OA does during an Ordeal? Pressure washers, paint rollers with extension poles, and wheel carts come to mind. Quick, somebody better let all the lodges know boys have to be 14 to push a wheelbarrow. I’m all for safety, but one of the great things about Scouting has always been that kids (and some adults) learn the proper way to use tools of many types and how to NOT do things they aren’t trained for. According to the logic shown here, we should stop allowing under 18’s to backpack for fear of a parent complaining about backaches and marks left by shoulder straps, or bruises left from falls during the physical fitness runs. And the snakes and spiders in ecology? That’s a whole other conversation. Safety is always, and I mean always, the first concern, complete with appropriate supervision, but that doesn’t take away from personal responsibility (something else everyone is supposed to be learning, right?). If a youth isn’t capable of exercising that level of choice, the guardian shouldn’t be putting them in this type of environment. They have to learn, but if it’s too much for you, don’t go, or at least only give partial permission. If a Dr. has to give written permission for participation in certain activities, why don’t the we require the guardians to give it for each specific activity?

      • Please explain why we need something beyond the guide to safe scouting, which does cover equipment usage?

      • 2745scout // May 4, 2012 at 1:10 pm // Reply

        Not True!
        See page 5 of the May 2012 Advancement News page

        “Health and Safety Announces New Guidelines
        Follow the link below to download the new Age Guidelines for Tool Use and Work at Elevations or Excavations, No. 680-028, and Service Project Planning Guidelines, No. 680-027, recently released by the national BSA Health and Safety Team.

        These guidelines apply generally to BSA activities in all programs as well as to Eagle Scout service projects.”

  3. Mike Kost // May 1, 2012 at 12:20 pm // Reply

    How are service projects different?

    • High-ropes courses are held at council-owned camps that have been tested by safety professionals. They’re also operated by adults who are trained in that particular course.

      Also, when a Scout climbs a ladder to paint a house, he or she doesn’t wear a harness and helmet. When that same Scout climbs to the top of a tower at a high-ropes course, you bet there’s a helmet, harness, gloves, etc.


      • Larry G, UC // May 1, 2012 at 9:31 pm // Reply


        FYI, more and more safety professional at construction companies are banning work performed from ladders. Ladders on more and more construction sites are becoming primarily used for access and egress with strict restrictions on what, if anything, can be carried by workers while using a ladder and when work absolutely must be performed from a ladder, what type of work with strict restictions for how long. Working from ladders for extended periods of time is no longer being permitted.

        The topic of “helmets” is also a good subject because this document fails to address when hard hats are required personal protective equipment on service projects. Certainly if work is being performed and tools and materials are in use at elevated work platforms as detailed in this document anyone working below such areas are potentially subject to falling tools, equipment, and materials even if they are not working at height themselves. The “Note on Personal Protective Equipment” suggests that safety helmets are only required when the person is actually using hand or power tools. This document does not address the risk of falling objects nor the risk of being injured by an action of someone else.

        If BSA can clearly spell out when a helmet, harness, and gloves are required on a high rope course it can certainly lay out the same conditions for specific use of personal protective equipment on a service project. Using terms like appropriate is not helpful because it means different things to different people. Misinterpretation of requirements is a very frequent root cause finding on why/how someone became injured.

      • What do you call adults? There may be a name of one actual adult on all the paperwork for certification purposes, but I have not yet attended a high-ropes course where there was more than one person over 21, and seldom more than two more 18 or over, where those persons were the ones leading the group. With high-ropes, climbing, and rappelling all happening at the same time, and occasionally off-site climbing as well, what camp has that many adults certified and in charge?

  4. This subject has been a point of discussion and, frankly, ridicule for its “over the top” foolishness. I will not get into all the reasons, as you can go on either Scouts-L or Scouter.com forums to see their pages of comments.

    Safety is one thing; lack of simple common sense is another. At some point, the “safety experts” need to take a breath and consider that youth much younger than these guidelines have mowed lawns and so on, used carts and wheel barrows, and taken shop classes or craft classes using many of the restricted items.

    The real key is teaching proper safety to start, and having proper adult supervision while allowing scouts to learn to do productive work. That is why we have tote-n-chip and so on. That is why shooting and archery activities, as well as many other possibly dangerous activities require safety training first, and MUST have proper adult oversight.

    Many of these ideas are simply ludicrous and simply invite their being ignored. Worse, it can push some scouts and leaders out, as they will go where they are given at least some options to be accountable and not overstep their abilities, or allow their charges to reach too far.

  5. Where do drills fall in this this list?

  6. From the Guide to Safe Scouting: “Chainsaws and mechanical log splitters may be authorized for use only by trained individuals over the age of 18, using
    proper protective gear in accordance with local laws.”

  7. Sue Beyer // May 1, 2012 at 1:14 pm // Reply

    I certainly understand the need for guidelines, but I question not allowing Scouts younger than 16 to use a household LAWNMOWER! I realize that times have changed a bit since I was a youngster, but I had my own lawnmowing service when I was a kid back in the mid ’50’s. I used my parents gas mower. I was 10 and a GIRL! I think this particular restriction is way overkill. Certainly 12 to 14 year olds can cut grass with a minimum of supervision. That includes the use of string trimmers. I expected my own sons to cut the grass at that age and I expect that my grandchildren will be able to do the same.

    Sue B., ADC

    • Sue,

      Have you seen this link from the U.S. Department of Labor?

      The BSA’s policies are similar in many ways to these government standards. It’s all about keeping kids safe!


      • Bryan,

        Are we going to ban cooking? According to your link, you need to be 16 to cook?

        • My intent was to point out one of several sources the decision-makers used to create these guidelines.

      • Regarding comparisons between US Labor and these tool guidelines- remember that no matter how bizarre and unrealistic your opinions may be, somewhere in this world there is always at least one like minded, bizarre, and unrealistic person who will agree with you. Also remember that US Labor is the same agency that wants to restrict or ban family farms because it believes they violate child labor laws. When it comes to youth and work, they are not the agency I would be quoting.

        Both the BSA and US Labor are out to lunch on this one.

    • Larry G, UC // May 1, 2012 at 1:51 pm // Reply

      Can they or should they is the real question. Lawn mowers can and do hurt many children under 16 each year because they were not properly trained, operate unsupervised, and commonly don’t wear adequate footwear, clothing, or personal protective equipment. I fully support age 16 and up on lawn mowers.

      • Sue Beyer // May 1, 2012 at 3:00 pm // Reply

        Larry, it is certainly true that lawn mowers can and do hurt many people who are not properly trained or supervised regardless of their age. Adults who don’t wear adequate footwear, clothing etc have the same problems as underage kids. Training and supervision are certainly advised for all who operate equipment like this, but it is not beyound the capabilities of Scouts younger than 16.

        • Larry G, UC // May 1, 2012 at 3:48 pm //


          What is and is not beyond the capabilities of children younger than 16 varies widely in terms of both physical and mental development.

          Regardless of our opinions, or what many parents may choose to permit their children to do, none of the experts recommend children under the age of 16 operate lawn mowers.

          Anyone who has ever seen their own child seriously injured by a lawn mower will tell you they regret ever having permitted their child to operate it. Regretfully some lessons are like that and until it strikes home behaviors, attitudes, and the family culture towards safety will not change.

          If these changes prevent someone under 16 from getting injured while participating in the scouting program I can’t help but believe that something good has been accomplished.

        • So if my child is maimed in a car accident I should feel guilty for letting them learn to drive? Teach and expect correct behavior, supervise what you can, and once you are confident they are competent, trust them to do the right thing. No one is saying send a group of 11 year olds to mow lawns by themselves.

      • Bob White // May 1, 2012 at 6:47 pm // Reply

        Sorry Larry, but thousands of more children are injured or die each year in automobile accidents than from lawn mowers, and yet I don’t hear or see any movement by BSA to require any registered adults transporting youth in a motor vehicle to take supplemental defensive driving courses, or to conduct annual checks of a driver’s record to identify unsafe drivers (i.e., those with moving violations). The danger posed by mowers pales in comparision to the danger–proven out by actual statistics–of motor vehicles, but much like TSA, BSA is choosing to tackle the easy solution rather than the effective one.

      • Must respectfully disagree. I was cutting grass at age 9 with a lawnmower, and earned my way to jamboree at ages 14-15 cutting grass.

        Further if read the links provided, door to door sales, i.e. TRAILS END POPCORN and other council fundraisers should be banned.

        Also cooking is prohibited under the DOL guidelines until age 16. Do we need to follow that too?

        • Larry G, UC // May 1, 2012 at 8:57 pm //


          Thank you for making my point about the safety culture within each family.

          Someone allowed you to cut grass at age 9 so you were raised with that being your norm and reference point in terms of what is acceptable.

          There are probably some families out there who believe it is acceptable for a 9 year old to use a chain saw or log splitter or operate PTO’s, augers, and other powered farm equipment.

          And on the opposite end of the spectrum there are families who do not permit their children to use such equipment or tools. Somehow the national program has to find a way to make it all work for all of the various opinions as to what is acceptable. In this case the program doesn’t make either extreme totally happy because it is somewhat of a compromise between the two built around maturity level norms at various ages.

          Let’s face it, all of this is nice up until the point when a scout actually gets injured or worse. As a scouter I can’t imagine a worse place to be than to find a scout injured on my watch and especially a preventable injury. And I would never, ever want to face the wrath of parents who’s son got injured using a tool or piece of power equipment that they would not permit the scout to use at home and which they had no prior knowledge that he would be using as part of the scouting program.

        • In response to Larry G, UC’s resposne to me. A wise man once said “Train them, trust them, let them lead.”

          William “Green Green Bar Bill” Hillcourt was not just referencing being a PL or SPL, but rather life as a whole since Scouting is suppose to prepare a youth for life. Yes our duty is safety, and out job as leaders is tomake sure that they are trained well enough that we trust them andlet them do what needs to be done.

        • Larry G, UC // May 2, 2012 at 9:41 am //


          “Train them, trust them, let them lead.” used in the correct context is about training boys to understand and practice leadership, not about safety training that pertains to various tools or equipment.

          There is nothing wrong with the leadership and discipline demonstrated by adults that teaches scouts that they are not yet physically or mentally prepared to take on every possible tool or task that could potentially be introduced to the scouting program and that some tools and tasks are not appropriate for use within the scouting program.

          The fundamental problem is there can be a huge gap between what two leaders feel is defined by being trained “well enough” and that gap is what results in scouts getting injured.

        • Larry,

          As I stated already, the “train them, trust them, let them lead,’ does not only apply to leadership, but also to life in general. BP, GBB, et al, wanted Scouting to prepare youth for life in general.

          While I agree with you that leaders need to know their scouts and what they are capable of doing, and not doing, the problem is what these regs are doing is NOT allowing those scouts to use the knowledge, skills, and abiltiies thatthey have learned, from school, parents, and Scouting. In essence we are doing the exact opposite of what the BSA’s mission is.

          As for the comment on “not training them well enough,” I hate to say it, but that isn’t just in Scouting, but in life in general. So I don’t see it as an excuse for these rules. Why do you think AHA, ARC and other training organizations are moving to video formats for training, with instructors just verifying skills and grading?

          if you don’t think Scouts are capable of using these things, that is your opinion and I respect it. But I do not agree with it.

        • Larry G, UC // May 2, 2012 at 7:49 pm //


          I’ve been thinking about some of these discussion points in terms of what the new guidelines state. In actuality I’m not a big fan of Taylorism though I am a big supporter of performance based standards.

          It kind of struck me when I came across the part on digging trenches and it honestly never occurred to me that digging trenches might be part of scouting service projects considering how dangerous trench work can be even for workers who do it day in and day out.

          Perhaps a better way forward, as opposed to attempting to dot all of the “i’s” and cross all of the “t’s” might be to simply have BSA provide a list of prohibited and unauthorized activities for service projects, similar to the prohibited and unauthorized list of activities that is already spelled out in the G2SS?

          If a project sponsor wants something done that is prohibited or unauthorized it simply can not be done and a revised project is either developed or something else is done for another sponsor.

          For example, it would be a whole lot simpler to just say a service project may not include trenching rather than getting into specifics of depth, width, trench boxes, exits, soil types, ages of volunteers, training, PPE, etc. etc.

  8. Where do rototillers and powered post-hole diggers fall?
    I would assume at least 16 or older with the other powered garden equipment.

    Does “Service Projects” include Eagle Scout projects?
    This information should be integrated into the Eagle Scout Project Workbook and Guide to Safe Scouting.

    • Chris,

      Yes, Eagle Scout projects are included.

      And if something isn’t on the list, the guidelines say: “if in doubt, adults should be recruited for all tool use or job functions that might be dangerous.” In other words, use common sense.


      • How can you use common sense when scouts the rules prohibit using stuff that most kids use like lawnmowers, edgers, etc?

      • Larry G, UC // May 1, 2012 at 10:02 pm // Reply


        You will rarely, if ever, hear a safety professional use the term common sense. The common in common sense really is an oxymoron.

        What is referred to as common sense is in reality learned behavior and not everyone is always at the same point in what they have learned when compared to what others may already know.

        Part of this discussion has illuminated how far apart people can be with common sense when it comes to something as simple as the use of lawn mowers.

        Telling someone to use common sense is really a waste of words because it is nothing more than a cliche and infers a collective understanding that truly does not exist.

        • You’re right about the use of “common sense.” Good point!


        • It seems that if I don’t feel the way you do about something that I just haven’t experienced or seen enough to realize what you do? I can look at a cliff and know that jumping is a bad idea without actually watching someone try it. Telling someone to use common sense is telling them to examine the facts and use their best judgement. If we have taught them properly, they will make good choices. If they aren’t, that’s why we are there to supervise and nudge them in the right direction.

        • Mike McKenna // May 27, 2012 at 6:45 pm //

          I think most of us would agree that it is common sense to be able to dial 9-1-1 or put the window up/down on a car, right?

        • Mike McKenna // May 27, 2012 at 6:47 pm //

          But, ask your scout to call 911 with a rotary dial phone and they’ll be stumped. Or, ask them to put the car window up/down on a car that does not have power windows and they’ll be stumped. So, common sense is really saying common “experience” and that is not really common.

  9. Thanks for the informative article. Are there other BSA guidelines available that I can browse online somewhere?

  10. Where do axes and hatchets fall on this list? Those are 2 items that are used in service projects alot. And in scouting.

    • Good point, Ed. Those are indirectly covered when mentioning the Totin’ Chip. But I added for clarity.

  11. As a Webelos leader, what about staple guns?

    • It’s probably best to read the manufacturer’s directions on this.

  12. There is a HUGE piece of this puzzle missing here that is not addressed in the PDF either. What constitutes “proper safety gear” for each tool. I’ve run into a camp ranger that thinks string trimmers should require the same safety gear as a chainsaw, including chaps, chainsaw helmet and steel-toe shoes, regardless of age. That’s ridiculously beyond all common sense, but how do you bring reason to such a situation. I believe national should set standards, but make them complete to eliminate confusion.

    • Brad,

      That’s probably another case where it’s best to read the owner’s manual.


      • Sorry, but that’s not really an answer because you can’t disagree with a paid scout employee unless there’s something in writing to contradict their assertion. He even stated that it was covered in the Guide To Safe Scouting (which it’s not). We need hard facts, not abstractions on safety issues. Otherwise “proper safety gear” is just one person’s opinion.

  13. This policy does not meet the smell test of the average volunteer. Note the long discussions on Scouts-L and Scouter.com Forums. I posted a longer comment earlier today, but has not shown up, so I guess it was too critical. Simply look at the FB comments; they reflect the same thing. Over the top, and completely irrational. It is pretty much a slap in the face to the active, in the trench scouters, who lean over backwards to keep kids safe, while using common sense.

    Hopefully National will actually take another look and do a major revision. If not, then why bother to even ask?

  14. The rules are idiotic. I told my Cub Scouts they couldn’t use their wagons on camping trips and they thought I was joking. But under these guldelines they cannot be used.

    As some one else mentioned on FACEBOOK, a lot of OA work at camps will no longer be able to be done.

    What I find ironic is that Scouts can use those tools for a MB, as Richard Boulon stated over at http://www.scouter.com , but they cannot use the knowledge skills and abilities for their projects.

    When I paid my way to go to Jambo and Canada as a 15year old Scout, one of the jobs my leaders found for me starting at age 14 was cutting grass with a lawnmower, edger and trimmer. And I was doing that since age 9 at home

    These rules are idiotic, no account of a scout’s knowledge, skills, or abilities. Green Bar Bill and Lord Baden-Powell must be turning over in their graves. And the Scouts from other countries now have even more reasons to laugh at some of the ridiculous rules the BSA has. I wonder what’s going to happen in 2019 when we host a WSJ.

    Someone stated in the comments on FACEBOOK that the DOL guidelines that the BSA is now basing their rules on does not permit door to door sales until 16 years of age. I just verified it. at this website http://www.dol.gov/elaws/esa/flsa/docs/haznonag.asp . This is true, so I guess Trails End Popcorn and other council fundraisers that use door to door sales will be banned too?

    Also I guess scouts will no longer be able to cook their own meals unless age 16 since under 15-year-olds may not cook, except with gas or electric grills that do not involve cooking over an open flame. And I don’t know of any camp stoves that do not produce an open flame. See DOL the link I posted above for that rule too.

  15. Rules are idiotic. If you follow the links provided, they also ban cooking over an open flame until age 16 and door-to-door sales. Read full commentary on FACEBOOK

  16. The DOL also prohibits anyone under 16 from door to door sales. So, I guess BSA needs to come up with something else for council fundraisers because all those little Cub Scouts and younger Boy Scouts won’t be able to sell Trails End every Fall.

    • The DOL also prohibits cooking over an open flame until age 16 too. So I guess cooking on campouts is out of the question.

      Thankfully Scouts can still build campfires for entertainment.

    • DOL is Dept. of LABOR, as in a paid job. Although an individuals’ unit does receive payment from papcorn sales, like everything else in Scouting, the selling is done on a voluntary basis. No paychecks are recieved.

  17. “Hand-operated saws (for Scouts with Totin’ Chip)”… I guess the practice of Dads building their Cub’s Pinewood Derby car is now official best practice. (Cubs don’t have Totin’ Chips.) At least they can still sand the car.

    • Theresa Fowler // July 17, 2013 at 8:40 pm // Reply

      Have you ever tried to carve that block of wood from the Pine Wood Derby kit with the saw they recommend? It is more dangerous than using a router or band saw. Believe me ,we tried it their way and yes we had blood! My boys learned to use a scroll saw,band saw,and router all with supervision from their dad from then on. Much safer!! And they actually learned to do it themselves. Also keep in mind no dremels also, but almost every pack I know has used them to make those tiny cuts and clean up curves.

  18. Question, if you gotta be 14 to use a cart, why is the National Scouting Museum having a push cart race for Cubs?

    • Remember, the guidelines are for service projects.

      • Bob White // May 3, 2012 at 9:49 am // Reply

        That’s one of the outrageous parts to this whole mess–it’s unsafe to use a certain tool during a service project, but it’s ok to use the same tool in a different setting, where there may be even less adult supervision? How does that make any sense whatsoever?

        • If these rules are for service projects only, then why is it OK to not follow them for other Scouting activities? Let’s face it if these rules are implemented fully, and I am praying that national sees the idiocy of them,, they will slowly expand to include all Scouting activities. I have seen this happen before in the BSA.

          And as been noted, they are based upon Department of LABOR rules for business and their employees, not VOLUNTEERS and MEMBERS. And if we are to fully follow these DOL rules, then a lot of traditional Scouting skills and experiences are over with or severely hindered, i.e. cooking over an open flame ( must be 16 according to DOL), Scouts going door to door i.e. Trails End Popcorn, or doing odd jobs like cutting grass to raise money for activities,(ditto above), Scouts doign OA work at camps, ad nauseum.

  19. The Girl Scouts of America have less restrictive rules on tool safety than BSA does!

    And the wolf book has scouts using wheelbarrows so I guess it’s ok to use wheelbarrows if you are 7, but not if you are 11?

    Doesn’t anyone in BSA safety read the actual requirements for program achievements–tools that we have been teaching scouts to effectively use for years are now outlawed until past the point many scouts have already earned their Eagle and aged out?

    How are webelos supposed to get their Craftsman badge if they can’t use saws? Since Cubs can’t earn Totin Chip, only boy scouts, yet cubbies use tools all the time. oh no! I’ve opened up another can of worms, better add in some more words to supplement all the things cub scouts can no longer do either!! :(

    If we can have safety rules to go climbing and we can teach welding and scuba diving, then we can have safety rules for tool usage that aren’t rediculous.

    These rules are soooo absurd that the majority of scout leaders will ignore them and thus the list does no good. How can I tell my scouts they have to move a reasonable wheelbarrow load of sand one grain at a time because a wheelbarrow is too dangerous? Or that the little red wagon with 4 wheels they got as a tiger is no longer allowed?

    • WC,

      When I told my Bear den that they could no longer use their wagons on campouts, they actually laughed at me and thought I was joking. Good call on the CS requirements and how these rules will no longer allow us to meet these requirements.

  20. I brought this up last night at the Troop meeting and was laughed at. By the wimpy scouts. And their Moms. One came up to me later and asked if I was serious and said she might just take her (First Class) out.

    • My Bear Cubs laughed at me too when I told them about the cart rule. They though I was joking as well.

  21. CGreene840 // May 2, 2012 at 12:00 pm // Reply

    Hey, Bryan, maybe you could get Mike Rowe to guest blog and re-post this for you so all these manly-men that know better than you and national will can it and fall in line.

    • CGreen,

      When National prohibited units from building pioneering projects over 5 feet unless inspected by a NCS certified COPE Director, everyone wearing a helmet, harness, and connected to a belay line back in 1989 or therabouts, I did not voice my opinion as I was only a youth at the time. I now regret not voicing my opinion on the idiocy of that ruling since BSA had a 75+ year history of such pioneering projects.

      Now as an adult I have a responsibility to advocate for the youth I work with. When a bunch of Bears laughs at some of the rules and think you are joking, that’s a problem. Yes my Bears laughed at the no carts rule. Heck the National Scouting Museumis holding a push cart event for Cubs. That’s gotta show some idiocy to these rules.

      When things that you did as a youth,and you know other folks did too, to raise money for various Scouting functions like Jamboree and Philmont, are no longer allowed, i.e lawnmowers, blowers, etc, that’s a problem.

      No matter who says what, I’m against this.

  22. I see my comments are immediately being “voted down” as fast as I can post them, and I respect that. But I did want to be sure to clarify two points:

    (1) These are guidelines, not policies. Note the difference.

    (2) These guidelines apply to service projects, not for program, campouts, summer camps, etc.

    Let me also say that although I’m in a position to clarify the guidelines here on my blog, the decision-making that went into these guidelines was made by people way above my pay grade and with decades of experience in the safety/risk management fields. So I’m not qualified to justify them, but I have been trying to help clarify them.

    The people who make these decisions are among the same ones who see detailed incident reports from across the country that show what happened when someone isn’t safe. We never had any major safety mishaps in my troop, but I still understand the value that guidelines can serve in helping to recommend safety standards.

    Thank you all for your passion for Scouting. Remember, we’re all in this together, and our priority continues to be providing a great, safe program for Scouts!


    • You are correct. You didn’t write ‘em, just reported ‘em. But you hit the nail on the head when you said “…what happened when someone isn’t safe.” If someone isn’t safe with a weed trimmer, they may be injured. Same goes for their actions in a canoe and on a rock wall. We can only train them and supply supervision. Accidents can and will happen during any activity, and we have to be prepared for them.

    • 2745scout // May 3, 2012 at 1:34 am // Reply


      You’re the messenger of a poorly thought out policy. Stop trying to clarify it, you can’t clarify stupidity.

      The truth, as I see it, is that the BSA is trying to limit as much liability as possible by dumbing down the program or transferring as much risk as possible to others, and in most cases that is the unit leadership or merit badge counselor.

      Let’s look at what has happened in the past few years:

      There are no more “Tour Permits.” There are now “Tour Plans. ” Why, because National was sued, and now they say that BSA does not approve permits but they want to see a plan. The liability is now on the Unit and the Chartering Organization.

      The Emergency Preparedness merit badge used to require that a boy know how to make a harness out of a piece of rope. That was changed to “show how to put on a harness,” and know even that has been removed from the requirements.

      First Aid – A few years back it suddenly became mandatory that if you were more than 30 minutes from medical treatment you had to be trained in Red Cross Wilderness First Aid. The cost of this training is a couple of hundred dollars and is very difficult to get due to a lack of instructors in my state. Transfer the liability of the training to the Red Cross.

      Shooting – Then we started transferring the liability for merit badge counselors. If you want to teach Rifle Shooting, Shotgun Shooting, Pistol Shooting or be a Range Safety Officer you must have completed the appropriate NRA certification training course and continue to maintain it. Transfer the liability of the training to the NRA

      On page 37 & 38 of the new Guide to Advancement 2011 states the following:

      The following merit badges have special qualifications or certifications for either the merit badge counselor or the supervisor of certain activities that may be involved. Counselors and advancement administrators should consult the merit badge pamphlets for details and to maintain awareness of changes and updates as pamphlets are revised.

      Canoeing – Canoeing merit badge counselors must have either BSA Aquatics Instructor or Canoeing Instructor certification from the American Canoe Association, American Red Cross, or equivalent; OR local councils may approve individuals previously certified as such, or trained by an instructor so qualified.

      Lifesaving – Demonstrations or activities in or on the water must be supervised by an adult at least 21 years old with certification in Red Cross First Aid/CPR/AED or equivalent, and also as BSA Lifeguard or Aquatics Instructor or equivalent.

      Whitewater – Whitewater merit badge counselors must be designated by the local council, and certified as whitewater canoeing or kayaking instructors by the American Canoe Association or have equivalent certification, training, or expertise.

      All this has done is drive down the number of merit badge counselors.

      Now we are starting to delve into the Dept of Labor Occupational Safety and Health (OSHA) personal protective equipment (PPE) standards. The problem here is that for them to apply there must be an employee/employer relationship. Therefore they may apply to the DE but they do not apply to the unit leader or merit badge counselor.

      Now for the sake of argument, let’s say that we think that these standards are good and that we should abide by them, are we prepared to follow the fitting, testing, cleaning, training and in some cases medical screening required for the use of this equipment as spelled out by OSHA?

      Is this direction that we want scouting to go? I hope not.

  23. Bryan,

    Yes we know you are between a rock and a hard place, just reporting what you know. Problem is that the documents do not state that they are just for service projects, uses mixed language to describe these as guidelines and as rules, and does not take into account other BSA program activities like advancement

    Further folks from Health and Safety are saying that these are not guidelines, but rules. And it really doesn’t matter. Once BSA gets an idea for a guideline, it eventually becomes a rule forbidding an activity.

    Best example I can give is the pioneering projects one. Originally Units could do them anywhere. Then there was a restriction that at council functions like scout shows and summer camps, they had to be inspected by a COPE Director and everyone had to wear harnesses, helmets, and attached to a belay line if over shoulder high. Then it dropped to 5 feet high max. Back in the day my troop built 25 and 30 foot high towers that we climbed on. Now the local troop can only build scale models.

    If we don’t stop the nonsense now, it will get worse.

  24. When all my kids started doing Destination Imagination in elementary school, they had to completely solve a challenge (usually a construction project) that would most often require them to use power tools. Adults were absolutely NOT allowed to help. We could teach them on scrap wood, pvc, metal pipe or whatever the material and then they would have to do the work themselves. All 4 of my kids know how to use a multitude of power tools. Thankfully my 18yr old who just received his Eagle last year, was able to completely build an 8×10 shed with very little adult help.

  25. This blog posts lists “Small, handheld power drills (electric)” for 14+, but that is not in the PDF. Which one is correct?

  26. Wow!
    There’s an awful lot of wrangling over this isn’t there?
    I welcome and support the new guidelines (guidelines are best practices, not restrictions, not policies, not rules) as a lifetime tradesman (carpenter) with thousands of hours on construction sites. I make it a habit to read accident reports and risk assessment studies. Few injuries result from wanton, mindless negligence. Most injuries happen when people are momentarily inattentive or simply lack knowledge of the risks involved.

    Some of these guidelines puzzled me too at first. Whats the risk of boys using a four wheeled wagon or a wheelbarrow? Is this an absolute prohibition against it? Turns out that it is not, it’s a guideline. It also got me to thinking that an overloaded wagon or wheelbarrow could be dangerous – never really thought of it before. Next time we are working with these things I am going to pay more attention to who is using them, how old they are, and whether or not that combination presents a possible risk.

    As a past employee of Habitat for Humanity (Habitat has similar rules for minors on work sites) working with adult volunteers who have little or no experience using tools safety of our volunteers was always a key concern. It’s not that our volunteers or our Scouts are stupid or incapable; they may not be familiar with the risks involved in even the most benign looking tools and situations.

    For the past thirty years as a Scout leader I have the typical (and mistaken) reaction to every guideline, rule and policy issued – we’re afraid of getting sued. I’d encourage everyone to consider that these guidelines, rules and policies are issued to protect Scouts not out of fear of litigation.

    Perhaps we’d all be a bit better off if we were a little less reactive. .

    • 2745scout // May 5, 2012 at 9:00 pm // Reply

      First we were told that these were guidelines that only applied to service projects and Eagle projects. Now page 5 of the May 2012 Advancement News states, “These guidelines apply generally to BSA activities in all programs as well as to Eagle Scout service projects.” When you say they apply to all programs, it does not sound like a guideline to me.

  27. CG,

    Must respectfully disagree. They are rules,just as the Guide to Safe Scouting is a set of rules, and not a guide. Activities that Scouts have traditionally done are now essentially banned. Cutting grass with a lawnmower, edging , using a blower, etc to raise money for jambo, Philmont, etc is BANNED by the BSA until 16 if done as part of scouting fundraiser. Using equipment that one has been trained to use via a Merit badge or classes at school are now BANNED by the BSA.

    Unfortunately I have seen the slippery slope that “guidelines” are with the BSA in my 30 years with the BSA. And this is a very big concern for me.

    • Mike McKenna // May 27, 2012 at 7:06 pm // Reply

      Jerry, so it seems that you do not like the guidelines that are being discussed. If you were in Richard Bourlon’s position, what safety rules would you put in place? How would make it better?
      Richard is in a difficult position. I see some Scouter’s comments that complain about the ambiguity of the term “appropriate” and then I see other comments that say that the rules are too extreme and unreasonable.
      I’ll bet that Richard can show you an injury report for each of these guidelines. Further, some of them likely required hospitalization or worse.

  28. mel sanders // May 14, 2012 at 12:15 pm // Reply

    seem a little “big brother – big government” feeling. So your saying my 15 year old (who is bigger than me) can’t operate a push lawn mower? Let’s make efforts to stress safety first (which has always been there) and not get into too much regulation. We’re men, for God’s sake.

  29. It would appear that the age chart should be fine tuned a bit. “Youth Up to Age 14” by definition would include Tiger Cubs to possible Eagle Scouts, which is quite a range.

    The chart should probably match the “Age-Appropriate guidelines for Scouting Activities” found in the guide to safe scouting. Personally I have a problem with any of the tools listed as Youth 14 Years and Older for Boy Scout aged boys (posthole digger, wheel cart, paint roller); any aged Boy Scout should be able to use those tools since they will probably be part of their Eagle Scout project.

    Any tool used improperly without proper supervision has the potential to cause harm to the user or others.

  30. When I was a scout It was all about learning skills not being banned from learning things over your age. Isn’t that why all cub scout activities are supervised by adults?
    I know what my webelos can handle better than someone (probably a lawyer) behind a desk with limited skills themselves, I’ve been with them since they were tigers. I’m not saying give a 10 year old a chain saw. Come on now let the boys grow up.

  31. nsestabrooks // March 7, 2013 at 4:06 pm // Reply

    Are these national standards? If so are they current?

  32. This is complete BS. If the scout can demonstrate the he can use a tool safely and correctly then he should be allowed to use it. I grew up using a welder when I was 12 and all sorts of saws and drills and even cutting torches by age 10. I understand most scouts don’t have this background but to say anyone under the age of 16 can’t operate a mower is ridiculous. I’m all for safety but these “guidelines” (more like the law) are just overkill

  33. So. how are scouts able to earn welding merit badge? Nothing allows or prohibits welding equipment. Is “silence” to be taken as approval?

    Requirement 6: After successfully completing requirements 1 through 5, use the equipment you prepared for the welding process in 5b to do the following:
    Using a metal scribe or soapstone, sketch your initial onto a metal plate, and weld a bead on the plate following the pattern of your initial.
    Cover a small plate (approximately 3″ x 3″ x ¼”) with weld beads side by side.
    Tack two plates together in a square groove butt joint.
    Weld the two plates together from 6c on both sides.
    Tack two plates together in a T joint, have your counselor inspect it, then weld a T joint with fillet weld on both sides.
    Tack two plates together in a lap joint, have your counselor inspect it, then weld a lap joint with fillet weld on both sides.

  34. So I have a scout using my home shop for his Eagle project. It requires using a drill press, pipe cutters (hand held, no power) and, drill/screw gun. I am also a woodworking and home repairs MB counselor. Is my expertise different when I am a MB counselor compared to an Eagle Scout project coach? I understand the saws but there is a lot of gray area. Belt sanders are okay at a certain age. What about an bench sander with oscillating belt?

    I saw the post/reply on the welding MB question AFTER I sent my comment. Common sense does apply but, a local company had an MB program for welding. Shouldn’t there be some standard or ratio for youth to adults during the actual work?

  35. This list is embarrassing. It seems to be a list made by individuals who live in cities and have hired help to do their yardwork. I agree about the safe use of tools but not allowing a scout to use a wheelbarrow until age 14? Or a lawnmower until they are age 16? We need to do two things to correct this 1) publish it far and wide that BSA, that organization that teaches self reliance and leadership feels that no one should be allowed on a ladder until they are 14 or use an electric leaf blower until they are 16. Let the media take it from there. 2) Obviously we need some new individuals with common sense on the committee that makes these ridiculous guidelines. Where do I sign up?

  36. Dustin Winters // November 14, 2014 at 2:20 am // Reply

    The American pediatrics association recommends 12 years old for push lawn mowers and 16 for riding. I don’t see why the BSA ‘Guidelines’ should be more conservative than that.


    I assigned my son lawn mowing chores (push mower) starting at 10 (5th grade), the same age I started as a child. Learning responsibility nearly always comes with the trade off of accepting more risk. That is why we teach scouts about pocket knife and axe safety, archery, fire starting and cooking, etc… Risk cannot be dialed back to zero and still achieve the goals of the program.

  37. The bulk of complaints written here about these guidelines focus on examples of what one person or another is able to do at some age, implying that everyone has that same ability. With proper training, most any Boy Scout can probably be taught to safely use most any of the tools. Without proper training and understanding, even the seemingly safe tools can be dangerous. Having worked on a great many Scouting service projects, I have rarely seen time devoted during the project to properly train someone to safely use a dangerous tool that they didn’t already know how to use. Unlike merit badge sessions, service projects do not lend themselves to having the level of supervision required to teach proper/safe use of a tool. This training is best done at another time. It frightens me that so many people here who profess to be good Scout leaders are so determined to dismiss these guilelines because they don’t agree with some part of them or because they did something different when they were a child.

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