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.

86 thoughts on “Check the BSA’s tool-use guidelines before your next service project

  1. 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

  2. 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.

  3. 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?

  4. 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?

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