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

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Updated for 2015


Hey, you with the posthole 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, found on page 103 of the Guide to Safe Scouting (PDF).

The document 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.

Tools-SafetyProtective equipment

Before starting any project, make sure everyone is properly outfitted with personal protective equipment, such as:

  • work gloves
  • safety glasses
  • safety helmets
  • earplugs or muffs
  • steel-toed shoes
  • protective aprons
  • safety face shields
  • other personal safety equipment as defined by OSHA standards

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.

Tools-ScrewdriverOK 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)
  • Screwdrivers
  • Nail hammer
  • Handsaw
  • Trowel
  • Hose spray washer
  • Wood sanding block (handheld)
  • Wood chisel (Scouts with Totin’ Chip)
  • Pocketknife (Scouts with Whittling Chip or Totin’ Chip)

Tools-WheelbarrowOK 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
  • Posthole digger
  • Wheel cart (1-, 2-, or 4-wheeled)
  • Paint roller with extension pole
  • Screwdriver (electric)
  • Handheld sander (small)
  • Cutting tools (e.g., Dremel, small)
  • Paint sprayer (small, less than 50 psi)

Tools-GearOK 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 lawn mower (self-propelled, riding)
  • Commercial lawn mower (push, self-propelled, riding)
  • Line trimmer (electric, gas-powered)
  • Edger (electric, gas-powered)
  • Leaf/grass blower (electric, gas-powered)
  • Hedge trimmer (electric, gas-powered)
  • Belt sander (electric, cordless)
  • Pressure washer (50 to 100 PSI)

Tools-Circular-SawOK 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.