Originally published in the October 2018 issue of Sweeping Magazine
Question: We have been using rotary methods for sweeping fireplaces for the last several years. From time to time, the rods will catch on our gloves and it has proved to be quite painful. What can we do to prevent this?
by Mike Segerstrom
Put a sleeve over the rod and hold the sleeve, not the rod!
This is a great question about a safety concern that can result in serious personal injury. Let's take a look at how important this can be, and how simple the solution is.
First let's cover the risks, and the injuries that can occur. More and more service technicians are sweeping fireplaces from the bottom with rotary methods. Because of this reports of hand injury may be on the increase. Some folks still use metal rods for rotary sweeping, but the industry has moved towards nylon and poly type rods. The practice for many years and even decades has been to wear good gloves, and don't grasp the rod tightly while it's spinning. Injuries have shown that this is simply not enough.
The most common issue is that the rod will catch on the glove. This can cause painful injury to the fingers and hand before the technician is able to release the drill trigger. Bruised and broken hands and fingers have resulted, and a very real risk is that there have even been technicians that have had fingers removed. This is serious.
Another concern is the risk of potential cuts and lacerations. As we use our rods for rotary sweeping and even tile breaking, sharp burrs can form in areas. Also, with certain nonmetal rods, pins used to fasten the couplers may start to back out. These burrs and pins may tear through a glove and severely cut the operator.
Using a drill with a clutch that allows it to slip is one solution, but it is not without its shortcomings. If the clutch is set loose enough to allow it to slip if a glove and hand get wrapped up, it may also begin to slip when more rods are added going further up the chimney. If the clutch is tightened at that point, the risk for hand injury returns. A clutched drill also does not prevent the cut injuries from burrs.
Placing a sleeve over the rod and holding the sleeve, not the rod, will prevent both the cut injuries, and injuries that can occur if the rod catches on the glove. The sleeve can consist of a variety of materials, and should be large enough for rod connectors to pass through for ease-of-use. One common material is an 8 to 12 inch length of 2" vacuum hose, or swimming pool vacuum hose. Cut to length hose or tubing is also available at home improvement stores and larger hardware stores.
The more durable the material, the longer it will last. If the sleeve fails or was forgotten for the job, a temporary solution is to use an empty caulking tube. Simply cut the dispensing end off the now we have a plastic tube. Another good sleeve material is PVC pipe, or plastic electrical conduit pipe. These should also be large enough in diameter to allow rod connectors to pass through. One drawback to using a rigid tube sleeve material, is that it's not flexible. Often our rods have an arc or curve to them as they go in and up the fireplace. A rigid sleeve limits flexibility and may increase resistance on the rods.
Since we are covering using a sleeve for rotary sweeping, we should also take a moment to talk about using a sleeve when removing clay liner with rotary tile breakers. Whether the technician is on top of the chimney or at the base of it, we should never directly hold onto a spinning rod when breaking tile either. The same type of sleeve for rotary sweeping, will work and protect our hands when breaking tile.
One complaint about using a sleeve comes from those that break tile sending the rods in from the top of the chimney. With a sleeve on the rod, if the rod starter comes loose from the drill chuck (which it always occasionally does), the technician can't grab the rods before they fall down the chimney flue. They slide right through the sleeve and disappear. There is a sleeve solution for this too, but it is limited to working only with metal rods.
Instead of using a 2 inch diameter type sleeve, with metal rods, a 1/2 inch diameter sleeve may be used. The best example of this would be a length of sturdy garden hose. Since the rod connectors won't fit through the garden hose, it is necessary to carefully cut an opening down the length of it. The side of the hose can then be opened and pushed onto the rod. The result is having a sleeve that will prevent the rod connectors from sliding through it. So when the starter rod inevitably slips out of the drill chuck, the smaller diameter sleeve helps prevent them from falling down the chimney flue. This type of sleeve does need to be removed from each rod as we add more.
When using a sleeve on the rods to protect our hands, we can use the same sleeve concept to help protect our rods and extend their lifespan. Instead of using an 8 to 12" length of sleeve, we can use a 2 to 3 ft length. This is especially effective when performing rotary sweeping from the bottom of a fireplace. We can allow the longer sleeve to extend through the damper frame or throat. This will prevent our rods from spinning directly on the rough and sharp edges of metal and masonry in the throat of a fireplace.
A longer sleeve will help protect our rods going through masonry thimbles, and also protect our rods if we are sending them in from the top. Many service technicians are now also using lightweight rods, like nylon dryer vent service type rods, for rotary service a factory built chimney and vent systems. A longer sleeve is an effective way to help protect the appliance & appliance components, like damper assemblies and baffle plates, when performing rotary service on these factory-built systems.
Of course, the use of a sleeve when rotating rods is but one small part of the overall technician safety. We should also always wear and utilize all of the necessary personal protection equipment for rotary service and or rotary tile breaking.