The woodworking industry has one of the highest accident rates in manufacturing, most of which are caused by contact with moving machinery. This accounted for 25% of all major accidents and one of last year’s two deaths in the woodworking industry.


Woodworking machine

Conditions will vary from clean workshops to those where machines are buried under dust and off-cuts. General tidiness is often a good indication of how well other issues are being managed. Machinery should be well maintained and have the correct safeguards. It should also only be used by those trained and competent to do so and you should be able to provide evidence to prove this. There should also be good control of health risks from wood dust (that can cause asthma or dermatitis), manual handling, noise and hazardous substances.

HSENI works with employers in the woodworking industry to take steps to improve safety records and improve worker's long term health and wellbeing.

Inspectors will ask to see copies of COSHH assessments and risk assessments if you have more than five employees, and health surveillance records (or summaries). Only low-level health surveillance (questionnaire-based) is needed for general wood dust but high-level health surveillance must be in place where there is exposure to high-risk woods like Western Red Cedar.

There should be evidence of maintenance and test records for any extraction equipment and instructions for employees on how to use it properly (see extraction section in Control of wood dust). There should also be written instructions provided to employees covering:

  • training and supervision for machinery
  • information on health hazards and how to control the risks
  • how to use and care for dust masks
  • how to clean up properly

Machinery guarding

The risks associated with using woodworking machinery are high since they use high-speed sharp cutters to do the job and in many cases these are necessarily exposed to enable the machining process to take place. Since many machines are still hand-fed, woodworking is probably the main industry where the hands of the operator are constantly exposed to danger.

As well as the high risk of injury from contact with the cutters, there is the risk of being injured by the ejection of the wood piece or cutters (or parts of them) from the machine. No two pieces of wood are the same; each piece behaves differently when machined or shaped during the production process. Knots and natural changes in the direction of the grain can give rise to snatching and kickback of the work piece.

What should you do?

Think about how you can make a machine safe. The measures you use to prevent access to dangerous parts should be in the following order. In some cases it may be necessary to use a combination of these measures:

  • use fixed guards (for example secured with screws or nuts and bolts) to enclose dangerous parts, whenever practical. Use the best material for these guards - plastic may be easy to see through but may easily be damaged. Where you use wire mesh or similar materials, makes sure the holes are not large enough to allow access to moving parts
  • if fixed guards are not practical, use other methods, for example interlock the guard so that the machine cannot start before the guard is closed and cannot be opened while the machine is still moving. In some cases, trip systems such as photoelectric devices, pressure sensitive mats and automatic guards may be used if other guards are not practical
  • where guards cannot give full protection, use jigs, holders, push sticks etc. if practical to do so
  • control any remaining risk by providing the operator with the necessary information, instruction, training, supervision and appropriate safety equipment
  • ensure control switches are clearly marked to show what they do
  • have emergency stop controls where necessary, for example mushroom-head push buttons within easy reach
  • ensure the work area around the machine is kept clean and tidy, free from obstructions or slips and trips hazards, and well lit
  • check the machine is well maintained and fit to be used, i.e. appropriate for the job and working properly and that all safety measures are in place - guards, isolators, locking mechanisms, emergency off switches etc.
  • use the machine properly and in accordance with the manufacturer's instructions
  • make sure you are wearing the appropriate protective clothing and equipment required for that machine, such as safety glasses, hearing protection and safety shoes

Local exhaust ventilation systems (LEV)

LEV is commonly known as Extractor or The Dust Extractor System within the Woodworking Business.

What is LEV?

LEV in your workplace should carry away any harmful dust, mist, fumes or gas in the air so they can’t be breathed in.

Properly designed LEV will:

  • collect the air that contains the contaminants
  • make sure they are contained and taken away from people
  • clean the air (if necessary) and get rid of the contaminants safely

To protect your health:

  • it needs to be the right type for the job
  • it needs installing properly in the first place
  • it needs regular checking and maintenance throughout the year
  • it needs testing thoroughly at least once every year
  • if you move LEV, make sure it still works
  • it needs an indicator to show it’s working properly
  • you need to check that it works properly every time you use it
  • you need to use it properly

Check for yourself to see how effective the LEV is where you work.

Control of wood dust

Why is it important to control wood dust?

Wood dust can cause serious health problems. It can cause asthma, which carpenters and joiners are four times more likely to get compared with other UK workers. The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations (NI) 2003 require that you protect workers from the hazards of wood dust. Hardwood dust can cause cancer, particularly of the nose.

Settled dust contains the fine particles that are most likely to damage the lungs.

For more information on occupational health within the woodworking industry, visit 'woodworking and health' web pages.



Machinery guarding

Local exhaust ventilation (LEV) - Extractors

Risk assessment

Key legislation

Please note that these links are to the original legislation, visitors should verify for themselves whether legislation is in force or whether it has been amended or repealed.