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Woodworking Shop Safety

Woodworking shops can be dangerous without proper training, supervision and the use of personal protective equipment. Many hazards exist, including power and hand tools, noise, electrical and pneumatic energy, combustible dust, flying debris and chemicals. All woodworking shop users must be aware of general shop safety rules and issues associated with each piece of equipment they may operate.

Machine Safeguarding in the Shop

It is important that guards provided by the manufacturer be used on all shop equipment. Properly functioning guards provide a physical barrier between the user and the point of operation. Guards also help contain wood chips and other debris that can be thrown toward the user. But machine guards alone cannot protect the operator from all hazards, so it is important to set up and use the equipment in a safe manner, according to the manufacturer's recommendations.

Guards should remain in place at all times. If a guard is removed, the machine should be turned off and a lockout should be performed. Lockout refers to the process for equipment shutdown, energy isolation and prevention of potentially hazardous energy release during maintenance and servicing activities. Lockout should always be performed on a piece of equipment before any repair is started.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for Woodworking

Operators working with wood may be exposed to flying particles that can strike the eyes or face. And chemical products such as varnishes and urethanes can splash into the eyes. Minimize these exposures with proper types of personal protective equipment, such as:

  • Safety glasses—These cover the front and sides of the eyes to protect against flying particles
  • Goggles—In addition to protection from particles and dust, goggles protect eyes from liquid splashes because they fit snugly on the face.
  • Face shields—These are adjustable and guard the face against flying objects and splashes. They should be worn to supplement safety glasses or goggles.

Woodworking Noise Hazards

Woodworking shop users also need to protect their hearing. The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) indicates that exposure to noise at or above 85 decibels on an 8-hour, time-weighted average (TWA) can cause permanent hearing loss—and many woodworking tools produce sound levels above 85 decibels.

In some cases, it is possible to place shields around the loudest equipment to absorb or deflect the noise. However, if noise shields cannot be added, personal hearing protection should be worn. Hearing protection (e.g., earplugs and earmuffs) reduces exposure to harmful noise, while still allowing voices and machine warnings to be heard. In areas with extreme levels of noise, it may be necessary to wear both earplugs and earmuffs at the same time.

Footwear worn in the shop should protect from the hazards of falling debris and moving equipment. Open-toed shoes (like sandals) do not offer enough protection. Shoes also need soles that are thick enough to prevent punctures by nails and other sharp objects. Steel-toed boots or shoes, which have a protective cap that covers the toes, are the best way to protect feet from injuries.

What to Do About Clothing, Jewelry and Hair

Loose clothing, long hair, necklaces and other jewelry can become tangled in a machine or tool. Always take the following precautions in the woodworking shop:

  • Clothing—Roll long sleeves up above the elbow to keep clothes clean and prevent them from getting caught in the tool.
  • Jewelry—Never wear loose necklaces or jewelry, and remove rings to prevent fingers from getting caught in moving equipment.
  • Long hair—Long hair should be tied back so it does not hang over the tool.

Woodworking Fire Prevention and Suppression

When sawdust, wood chips, flammable solvents and oils are combined with tools that can generate heat and sparks, the possibility of fire is very real. Fortunately, good work practices can lessen the chance of a fire.

Regularly clean sawdust from tools, workbenches and floors to eliminate a common fuel source. Brushes are the preferred method for cleaning machines as pneumatic air can cause the sawdust to become airborne and increase the risk of fire if an ignition source is present.

When working with flammable products such as solvents or stains, always keep the containers closed when not in use. Make sure containers of flammable liquids are stored inside a flammable liquids storage cabinet. Waste rags covered with oils or solvents should be deposited in a UL®-listed safety can and removed from the building every night. Fire extinguishers rated for wood and flammable liquids fires should be kept on hand and easily accessible.

Hazardous Chemicals and Waste

Before working with a product, read the container label and safety data sheet. The SDS will summarize the hazards associated with the product, such as its flammability, toxicity or corrosiveness. It will also discuss the types of personal protective equipment that should be used, symptoms associated with overexposure and first aid measures to take during an exposure situation.

Some products used in woodworking shops have been classified as hazardous waste by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) because of their potential impact on the environment. Users should always dispose of hazardous wastes safely and legally. Never pour hazardous waste down the drain or onto the ground. If there is any question as to whether or not a product is considered hazardous waste, refer to the SDS or contact the product manufacturer.

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