Safe use of woodworking machinery

1. Introduction

The Woodworking Machines Regulations 1974 have been revoked and the Health and Safety Executive has produced a new Approved Code of Practice with guidance material which specifically apply to woodworking machinery safety.  This Policy Statement summarises the legal requirements but those with responsibility for and/or control for woodworking machinery are advised to read a copy of the Approved Code of Practice and Guidance[1].

2. Suitability and safety of woodworking equipment and tools

(a)  Wherever departments provide woodworking machinery it must be suitable for the work to be undertaken and used in accordance with the manufacturer's specifications and instructions.  If woodworking machinery is adapted it must still be suitable for its intended purpose.  For example, for grooving, a properly guarded vertical spindle moulding machine or routing machine are suitable, but if a circular saw is used for grooving, special guards should be provided to prevent access to that part of the saw blade above the table; and for cutting a rebate, a properly guarded spindle moulding machine poses a lower risk than using the cutter block of a surface planning machine.

(b)  In addition, departments must select suitable tools.  Where possible, limited cutter projection tooling or other devices which achieve the same effect should be fitted to hand-fed machines.  Where departments already have that tooling or its equivalent the supervisor must ensure that it is used.  Otherwise, the changeover to limited cutter projection tooling or its equivalent should be made when replacement tooling is obtained, or by 5 December 2003, whichever is the sooner.

Only cylindrical cutter blocks should be used on hand-fed planing machines.  To prevent the cutters from becoming accidentally detached from the block, the manufacturer's recommendation for balancing and mounting should be followed.

(c)  Departments should fit braking devices to reduce the rundown time of cutting tools on woodworking machinery where this is necessary.  These devices are considered necessary for the following machines: circular saw benches; dimension saws; powered and hand-fed cross-cut saws (unless there is no risk of contact with the blade during rundown); single-end and double-end tenoning machines; combined machines incorporating a circular saw and/or tenoning attachment; narrow band saws; re-saws; vertical spindle moulding machines (unless fitted with a manual or foot-operated brake); hand-fed routing machines; thicknessing machines; planing/thicknessing machines; surface planing machines.

In the case of circular saw benches, dimension saws, powered and hand-fed cross-cut saws (unless there is no risk of contact with the blade during rundown), single-end and double-end tenoning machines and combined machines incorporating a circular saw and/or tenoning attachment the work should be completed no later than 5 December 2001.  For narrow band saws, re-saws, vertical spindle hand-fed routing machines, thicknessing machines, planing/thicknessing machines and surface planing machines and all other machines the work should also be completed no later than 5 December 2001.  Where they have been identified as necessary, departments should fit the braking devices as soon as practicable before this date.

Braking devices are not considered necessary when:

-  machines have a rundown time of ten seconds or less;

-  the effect of braking could be detrimental to the integrity of the machine;

-  machines have been built in conformity with a harmonised European standard and the standard does not require braking devices.

(d)  Because of the way most woodworking machines work, there is a risk of the machine moving unintentionally along the floor (or bench).  For this reason, and to minimise the risk from noise and vibration, all machines, other than portable machines, should be secured in place.  This is most effectively done by fastening to the floor, bench or similar fixture.

(e)  The safe working speed should, where possible, be displayed or marked on the machine.

The safe working speed should, where possible, be displayed or marked on the tool.  Where this is not possible, a table should be available to those who select and/or use the tools showing the speed range of the tools.

The diameter of the smallest saw blade that should be used should be marked on every circular sawing machine.

(f)  If a combined surface planing and thicknessing machine is used for thicknessing and the machine does not have sectional feed rollers or another device to prevent kickback/ejection then a warning notice should be displayed, stating that only one workpiece at a time shall be fed into the machine.  Similar precautions should be adopted if a surface planing machine fitted with a demountable thicknessing device is used for thicknessing and the machine does not have sectional feed rollers etc.

(g)  There is also a requirement for departments to assess the location in which the woodworking machinery is being used and to take account of any risks that may arise from the particular circumstances found.  Sufficient working space is a major requirement.

3. Maintenance

It is important that departments maintain all parts of woodworking machinery so that performance does not deteriorate to the extent that it puts people at risk.  Woodworking machinery should be checked frequently to ensure that safety related features are functioning correctly.  It is recommended that departments keep a record of safety checks and maintenance for high-risk woodworking machinery (as defined in 2 c) above).

The maintenance of woodworking machinery should include:

(a)  worktables (upon which a workpiece rests or over which it passes) - these should be smooth and free of any obstruction or damage that is likely to interrupt the continuous feeding of any workpiece to the tool;

(b)  mechanical feed systems (where used) - these should track and run smoothly;

(c)  guards (particularly adjustable, interlocked or automatic guards) - these should be freely adjustable, over the full range of work for which they are designed, and continue to fulfil their safety function;

(d)  protection devices including two-handed controls and photo-electric devices (where provided) - these should be in effective working order;

(e)  tools - these should be sufficiently sharp and not damaged in such a way as to increase the likely risk of disintegration/break-up;

(f)  toolholders and workpiece clamping systems (where fitted) - these should move freely and continue to function safely;

(g)  protection appliances (such as jigs, holders, push-sticks etc) - these should be stored in a safe place to minimise the risk of damage and be checked to ensure that they are fit for safe use.

4. Specific risks

(a)  There are specific risks involved in using woodworking machinery as much of the cutting tool needs to be exposed to allow the machining of the workpiece.  The effort of moving the material through the machine is always towards the fast moving cutter(s) which in many cases cannot be fully enclosed. Safety therefore relies on a combination of the use of guards, protection devices and protection appliances (which must be supplied as necessary) and competent persons following safe working practices and systems of work.

There are also high residual risks while setting, adjusting, removing off-cuts and cleaning tools and machines, so again appropriate precautions are necessary.

(b)  Departments must provide health and safety information and, for high risk machines, provide written instructions to both users of and those who maintain the woodworking machinery.

The information and instructions provided on the use of woodworking machinery should include where relevant:

(i)  the speed, range, type and dimensions of tools suitable for the machine;

(ii)  any limitation on the cutting speeds of the machine, particular operations or size and material of any workpiece;

(iii)  procedures relating to repair or replacement of any guard or protection device;

(iv)  the availability, suitability and use of any additional protection device or protection appliance;

(v)  the correct procedures to be followed for setting and adjusting operations;

(vi)  safe methods of handling tools;

(vii)  correct procedures for start-up and shutdown, isolation and how to discharge any residual energy;

(viii)  procedures for cleaning saw blades by hand (which should be carried out with the machine isolated and with the blade stopped);

(ix)  procedures for adjusting any guard, tool. clamp or other part of a machine (which should not be carried out while any part of the machine is in motion, unless they can be done safely).

(c)  Departments must ensure that woodworking machine operators have been formally trained and are competent.  Training and competency records should be maintained by the department.

5. Departmental action

(a)  Departments must carry out a risk assessment under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1992 which should identify the hazards presented by the machinery in the department.  The purpose of the risk assessment is to identify the control measures that can be taken to overcome the risks that the hazards present.

(b)  It may be necessary to provide improved safety design features to the machinery itself.

(c)  Thereafter, measures which should be taken to prevent access to the dangerous parts of the woodworking machinery, ranked in the order they should be implemented are:

(i)  fixed enclosing guards;

(ii)  other guards or protection devices such as interlocked guards and pressure mats;

(iii)  provision of protection appliances such as jigs, holders and push-sticks etc;

(iv)  the provision of information, instruction, training and supervision;

It may be necessary to select a combination of risk control measures.


[1]Health and Safety Executive - "Safe Use of Woodworking Machinery" ISBN O 7176 1630 4.

March 1999