Responsibility for Tools

Shop owners describe how they keep track of tools ó and try to keep workers from abusing them. January 26, 2008

My workers beat the heck out of the tools, which I sort of understand since we are always pushing to get things done... Just wonder how you get them to pay more respect. Tools get used up, I understand, but there is a line between normal use and abuse which gets crossed. How do you deal with this problem?

Forum Responses
(Business and Management Forum)
From contributor J:
What sorts of tools are you having issues with? My production shop experience was as a patternmaker rather than cabinetmaker, so there are bound to be differences in your situation. Anyhow, my experience has been that employees buy and care for durable personal tools that are frequently used, storing them in a personal toolbox much like an auto mechanic does, and the cost of obtaining them made it worth taking care of them. In the pattern shop everyone had a drill or two, trammel points, an adjustable square, protractor, calculator, hammer, chisels, rulers, dividers, calipers, etc. Some guys sprung for their own nail guns or pneumatic sanders so they didn't have to compete for the beat-up shop-owned tools. The shop provided the more expensive and specialized power tools, plus saw blades, router bits, cutoff wheels and such.

From contributor D:
I had a couple guys go through three jigsaws in about six months. I said enough - if you want a jigsaw, buy it yourself. 18 months later, still using the same jigsaw. When they write a check for it, they seem to take better care of it.

From the original questioner:
Can you charge an employee for wrecking or abusing or mishandling a tool? Or losing a tool? I didn't think that this was permitted.

From contributor P:
Nope, that is not legal. I don't have any advice other than better employees, but finding any is a trick these days. Being more organized helps. Also making them put tools away frequently and clean up frequently. It forces organization. I used to have a guy whose only job was to cleanup and put away the tools - that worked pretty well. Quality guys usually have their own hand tools, screw gun, etc. If they don't have their own tools, that is a bit of a red flag as to their quality and interest or ability to take ownership for tools.

From contributor D:
No, it's not legal to charge them for broken tools. It is, however, legal for certain jobs to require certain tools. Auto mechanics are a great example - they own thousands of dollars worth of tools. My installers are now required to own all their own basic hand tools, including drills and chop saws, etc.

From contributor L:
We provide all tools and do not permit employee owned tools in the shop. There is never a question about whose tool it is, or if it can be pulled from service due to defects that might be a hazard.

Each assembly bench has an identical color-coded set of tools. Specialty tools are maintained in one location and are required to be put back there as soon as possible. All tool boards at the benches are identical. Every few years, we make new back-benches and tool boards to keep up with changing tools and processes. This process has reduced wasted time and theft. We still lose tools to theft, just not as many as before. Every new tool is inscribed with its location (bench number), date, company logo, and color-coded.

I keep a spreadsheet for all tools, date, cost, location, additional or replacement, model number, serial number, and disposal date/reason/method. Itís not a perfect solution - takes some time to administer - but I think worth it. There is nothing worse than an employee spending time looking for a tool. Damaged tools are turned in to the shop foreman, also a note if there is a missing tool. All tools go back on the boards at the end of the day so you can easily tell right away if there is anything missing.

The same practice is used for adjustment tools and the like at the stationary tools, and also includes a manual in a three-ring binder. I think it takes less time to maintain this system than was wasted in the past without it! If you lose 10 minutes/day/employee looking for tools, thatís an hour of production time per week/employee. $60 worth of production time, $30 in direct labor costs X 50 weeks = $3,000 or $1500/employee/year. I can afford a lot of bench tools for that!