Occupational Health and Safety

Woodworking machinery causes significantly more major injuries than machinery in any other industry ... (source)

Health and safety can't be ignored in furniture production. When designers determine the form of each product's component, they specify production processes and materials. Management must then minimize the negative impacts of these technologies on workers' lungs, fingers, ears, eyes, etc., by providing adequate training, supervision and safety equipment.

Health hazards include exposure to wood dust, toxic chemicals/finishes, noise and vibration (health); unguarded machinery, non-ergonomic handling/procedures, poor waste management and fire/explosion (safety).

Table saw operations possess one of the worst safety records (see below). furniturelink lists more links to safety information (see sidebar), and the following worldwide government health and safety bodies provide invaluable information:

New Zealand:
United Kingdom:
United States:

Table saw safety

The UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE) reports that over 50 per cent of UK furniture industry accidents (links to PDF ) occur in workplaces of under 25 employees, and 35 per cent of accidents involve table/circular saws. These statistics serve as a wake-up call for smaller-scale wood furniture manufacturers in Canada. furniturelink urges full compliance with the HSE guidelines for the safe use of table/circular saws (links to PDF ), which include:

  • Fit table saws with a suitable riving knife and blade guards.
  • When ripping and cross cutting, provide adequate work piece support, correctly position hands, use a push stick and appropriate adjustments for the riving knife and blade guard.
  • Use push sticks for any cut less than 30 cms in length or when feeding the last 30 cms of a longer cut and when removing cut pieces smaller than 15 cms.
  • Provide adequate dust extraction below and above the table.
  • Use jigs/holders where appropriate.
  • Whenever feasible, use a demountable power feed.
  • If an assistant works at the back of a bench/table, use a table extension to ensure a distance of at least 1.2 m between the edge of the saw blade and the end of the table.
  • When rebating and grooving, use alternative guards and fixtures to adequately shield the saw blade.
  • For stopped grooving, use a vertical spindle moulder (shaper).

Investigate the purchase of a US-manufactured SawStop tablesaw with its patented safety system that stops a spinning blade on contact with skin in less than 5 milliseconds.

Wood dust safety

Workers who breathe in wood particles generated by sanding and cutting may experience allergic respiratory symptoms, mucosal and non-allergic respiratory symptoms and cancer. Airborne dust can cause an explosion — any wood furniture manufacturing facility must install adequate dust extraction equipment and mandate cleaning procedures.

The United State's National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) provides reports on controlling wood dust generated by the following machines:

Noise level safety

Some of the noisiest working environments can be found in the woodworking industry. Workers exposed to high noise levels, even for a short time, may experience temporary hearing loss. Continued exposure can result in permanent hearing loss.

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