Working with wood

Published 27th April 2022

The HSE has announced that it will be visiting any business involved with wood products and manufacturing this year.

There are many hazards when working with wood and the HSE want to ensure that all employees are protected, and their health and safety is considered at all times.

The main areas of concern are machinery and training.

All machinery involved in getting wood, clearing tress, and manufacturing wood products must be well maintained and have the correct safeguards in place.

Employees using any tools or machinery must be trained and competent to use any equipment provided.

Many serious hand injuries have occurred because workers have accidentally touched tools that are running down, sometimes when the machine has been switched off and left unattended. Therefore, braking devices must be fitted to reduce the rundown time for cutting tools. All woodworking machines, where a risk assessment shows it to be necessary, should have been fitted with braking systems by 5 December 2008.

Old style tooling tended to pull the hand in to the cutters, often resulting in serious amputations. Although the limited cutter projection tooling will not prevent an accident, it is designed and constructed to significantly reduce the extent of an injury if the worker touches the cutters. If injuries do occur, they are likely to be lacerations requiring stitches rather than amputations. Other safety attachments can limit the depth of the cut of wood so the kickbacks are less likely to occur.  

Working with wood can often expose the employee to other hazards such as working at height and the risk of falls, slips on uneven ground and trips due to workplace objects. Appropriate risk assessments should be performed for each site and workplace and appropriate action taken to minimise accidents and injuries. Each employee should be assessed to ensure they are safe to work at height and to operate machinery.

Employees are often involved in accidents with vehicles and appropriate assessments should be made to minimise this risk.

Wood dust is highly inflammatory and you need to take extra care to extract it safely and keep it away from a source of ignition. Adequate ventilation and extraction is required in enclosed workspaces. The ventilation and extraction equipment must be properly maintained, and employees trained on how to use it correctly. Sweeping and compressed air should not be used to clean up dusts as this will unsettle the dust and allow it to become inhaled .A  suitable Industrial vacuum cleaner should be used.

Wood working can also expose the worker to manual handling risks with heavy and awkward items to manoeuvre. Manual handling equipment should be used whenever possible.

Wood dust can cause serious health problems. Carpenters and joiners are four times more likely to develop asthma compared to other UK workers. Hardwood can cause cancers- especially of the nose. Wood dust contains fine particles that can cause damage to the lungs. Hard and soft woods have exposure limits that must be monitored and kept as low as possible.

HSE will expect an employer to have a plan in place for safeguarding those employees who may be exposed to wood dust; this will include health surveillance even if there are controls in place.

Health surveillance prevents asthma by detecting early signs of health symptoms, if you detect symptom’s early enough and reduce exposure, you will reduce the employees’ risk of developing asthma. Health surveillance needs to be undertaken by a competent Occupational Health provider who is qualified, able to interpret and explain the results and provide a report to the employer:

  • Assessing an employee’s health before they are exposed - this can be a questionnaire and a lung function test.
  • Regular lung function test and assessment - usually annually.
  • Skin checks for skin irritation and dermatitis.

Involve your Occupational Health provider when setting up a health surveillance programme; a good provider will want to see your risk assessments and know about the hazards in the workplace.

Tell your Occupational Health provider if any of your employees have any of the following symptoms:

  • Recurring sore or watering eyes
  • Recurring blocked or runny nose
  • Bouts of coughing
  • Wheezing
  • Check if employees have noticed their symptoms improve when they are out of the workplace

If PPE is required, then use the correct Respiratory Protective equipment with face fit testing.

If you would like any advice on how to conduct a risk assessment or if you may require Health Surveillance for your employee, then please get in touch with us.

FT 27.02.2022

Workplace Wellness is the trading name of
Bradford on Avon Occupational Health Services Ltd.
Registered in England: 9749251
VAT no. 27144823278
Registered Office: 29 Bridge Street Bradford on Avon Wiltshire BA15 1BY

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