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Health and Safety Guides » Health and Safety Guide for Joiners

Joinery is the process in which two or more sections of wood are connected, and a joiner is a craftsperson who joins wood and is usually associated with creating a range of timber products such as furniture, staircases, windows etc. Woodworking is a trade that often involves a lot of sharp tools and machinery so it is important that joiners know what health and safety issues to be aware of and how to observe and promote safety at work to ensure their own safety, as well as the safety of the area and people around them.

What is the role of a joiner?

Carpentry and joinery are both construction trades working with wood and there are lots of similarities between joiners and carpenters; they do share a number of similar skills but there are differences. After a broad education in the manufacture of timber products, a student will then choose to specialise and become either a qualified joiner, carpenter or, in some cases, both.

The basic difference is that a joiner makes and constructs items by joining pieces of wood without using metal fasteners, screws or nails; whereas a carpenter will then take these items and fit them on site usually using metal fasteners, screws and nails. Another important distinction is that joiners construct items at a bench, in a workshop – items such as interior and exterior doors, windows, stairs, tables, bookshelves, cabinets and furniture. Carpenters then use their carpentry skills to install these items on site if required.

The equipment used by joiners and carpenters can be very different. Joiners are usually based in joinery workshops and the equipment they use often tends to be large and heavy, such as mains electricity powered saws used to create and cut joints, such as circular saws, lathes and sanding wheels. This machinery is not portable, so joiners do most of their work off-site in a workshop.

The role of a joiner can involve:

  • Learning the uses of different types of wood and choosing the right material for the job
  • Creating design drawings, alongside sketches of the work needed and the specifications
  • Understanding technical drawings and how the work will fit within the building
  • Estimating the materials needed for a job
  • Measuring and marking wood according to technical designs
  • Cutting wood on machines or by hand
  • Using a range of equipment from traditional tools to state-of-the-art computerised cutting equipment and hi-tech drawing and design software
  • Creating a range of products such as furniture, cupboards, staircases, windows etc.
  • Conducting quality and safety checks

 

The above list is not exhaustive. A joiner will also be responsible for ensuring the safety of their equipment and resources to protect the safety of themselves and other people.

Health and Safety for Joiners

What are the main hazards of working with wood?

Woodworking is a dangerous trade. There are many potential hazards present in a joiner’s work environment which could lead to severe injury or even death.

Sanding and planing wood creates wood dust, and breathing it in can cause nasal cancer, serious lung problems and asthma, which woodworkers are four times more likely to get compared with other UK workers. Both hardwood and softwood dusts have a Workplace Exposure Limit (WEL) which must not be exceeded. The WEL for hardwood dust is 3mg/m3 (based on an 8-hour time-weighted average). The WEL for softwood dust is 5mg/m3 (based on an 8-hour time-weighted average). For mixtures of hardwood and softwood dusts, the WEL for hardwood dust of 3mg/m3 applies to all wood dusts present in that mixture. Employers must provide dust extraction, also known as local exhaust ventilation or LEV, at woodworking machines to capture and remove dust before it can spread.

Concentrations of small wood dust particles are highly flammable. They can accumulate in machines, local exhaust ventilation (LEV) and in the workroom. Regularly clean the entire workroom, including all machines, to prevent dust build-up and control any fire hazards.

Wood dust, shavings, chips or slivers can also cause injuries to the eyes or skin through splinters. Joiners are at most risk from flying debris from the chipping, chiselling, drilling, grinding, sanding and sawing of wood. Even a tiny splinter of wood can cause severe eye damage.

Joiners regularly use workbenches, but when a bench is too low, bending over can result in back aches and pains. Try to be aware of potential problems like this, and think about how to resolve the situation such as raising the height of the bench, or sitting in a chair or on a stool while working.

In any job, performing the same tasks over and over again carries a risk of repetitive strain injury (RSI). In workshop joinery, these are often related to bending, hunching, reaching or lifting. To prevent RSI, joiners should be aware of their posture when carrying out repetitive tasks and take steps to reduce any action that causes excessive strain on the back, neck, shoulders and arms in particular.

Tools used improperly could risk causing severe injury, so it is important to have the right training in their use. All employees using powered tools must be trained to handle them properly. Additionally, there are risks of injury from the wear and tear of equipment if it is no longer fit for purpose. Hand tools and electrical equipment should be regularly checked for any faults or damage, to prevent injury. All woodworking machinery must be cleaned regularly and inspected before each use.

The most common injuries sustained by joiners include fractured hands, feet and toes due to crushing and squashing-related accidents. Loss of fingers can also happen due to dangerous or faulty tools or equipment.

When using loud machinery or operating tools that cause loud noises over a long period of time, a person’s hearing could be affected. These changes may not be immediately obvious, but the noise of machinery has been attributed to hearing loss in later life.

Prolonged exposure to vibrations from hand-held power tools can damage blood vessels, nerves, muscles and tendons; symptoms can include white patches on the hands, especially in cold weather, a tingling in the fingers, numbness in the fingers and even a gradual loss of sensation. We will look at the risks of using power tools later in this guide.

Joiners use electrical tools on a daily basis. These tools should be regularly inspected and tested to check for faults as they may cause electrical shock or electrical burns.

The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (COSHH) is the law that requires employers to control substances that are hazardous to health. The woodworking industry is deceptively full of hazardous substances. Inhaling or touching certain substances, such as wood preservatives or epoxy resins, can cause severe dermatitis, a skin condition resulting from direct irritation. Considering the more obvious woodworking hazards, hygiene can seem insignificant by comparison. Hands are the part of the body most likely to encounter harmful substances whilst woodworking. Employees who neglect routinely washing their hands can develop serious skin irritation due to accumulated chemicals.

Slips, trips and falls risks

Slips, trips and falls are one of the top three causes of non-fatal work injuries involving days away from work. Each year they cause thousands of preventable injuries, and can cause various injuries such as bruises, sprains, scrapes, broken bones and head traumas.

Common causes of tripping in joiners’ workshops are:

  • Obstructed views
  • Poor lighting
  • Clutter in your way
  • Uncovered cables
  • Bottom drawers not being closed
  • Uneven steps, thresholds or walking surfaces

 

Good housekeeping is the first and the most important and fundamental level of preventing falls due to slips and trips. Slips and trips affect the whole workplace, so everyone should work to eliminate them by cleaning up spills or debris, even if they did not cause them. Dispose of all debris safely in a skip, bin or designated areas for waste collection, as the debris may contain nails or other sharp objects. Keep work area floors clean, orderly and dry and keep surfaces free of hazards such as sharp objects, loose boards, corrosions, leaks and spills. Remove any obstacles from walkways, cover cables that cross walkways, and always keep walkways free of clutter in the workshop. Keep working areas and walkways well-lit and provide sufficient light for your tasks; replace worn light bulbs and faulty switches. Signpost any slippery areas and make sure footwear with a good grip is worn. We will look at PPE later in this guide.

Manual handling risks

Manual handling is a term that is used to cover a range of activities and movements, including lifting, carrying, pushing, lowering and more. When any of these things are overdone or performed incorrectly, they can result in injuries known as musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). MSDs include sprains and strains, repetitive strain injury (RSI), back injuries, hernias, pain in the arms, legs or joints, and soft-tissue injuries to the wrists, arms, shoulders, legs or neck.

According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), manual handling incidents account for around 30% of all workplace injuries and many of the injuries in woodworking are caused during manual handling activities.

There is potential for injury to occur during:

  • Handling of timber and board material
  • Machining and assembly
  • Handling and storage of the finished product

 

For joiners, most injuries occur from stresses and strains over a sustained period of time instead of from a singular event. Joiners are required to lift very large, heavy objects, such as wood panels, which can result in injuries from poor posture.

Manual handling injuries shouldn’t necessarily be a given, and there may be some things that can be done to reduce the risk of an incident or injury from happening. Make the loads smaller and lighter and, if possible, increase the number of people lifting the objects. Manual handling training is so important, as it can make you aware of the potential risks and injuries, and learning the principles of manual handling could prevent a serious injury in the future.

Risk assessments

Under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations (1999), the minimum a business must do is:

  • Identify what could cause injury or illness in your business (hazards)
  • Decide how likely it is that someone could be harmed and how seriously (the risk)
  • Take action to eliminate the hazard or, if this isn’t possible, control the risk

 

Risk assessment requires making a judgement on Risk Severity. Risk Severity = probability of risk materialising x impact of risk on, for example, a person or people, a business, a property etc.

Probability may be understood as:

  • Low (Level 1) – a reasonably informed person would think it very unlikely this risk would materialise in the foreseeable future.
  • Medium (Level 2) – a reasonably informed person would think there is a significant possibility this risk would materialise in the foreseeable future.
  • High (Level 3) – a reasonably informed person would think there is a very significant or even likely possibility the risk would materialise in the foreseeable future.

 

Impact may be understood as:

  • Low (Level 1) – any impact that is minimal, having regard to the importance of interests affected, impairment of function and duration. Typically, the impact is isolated and short-lived.
  • Medium (Level 2) – any impact that is significant, having regard to the importance of interests affected, impairment of function and duration. Typically, the impact is limited to one function or group, but there is a material operational impact and the effects may continue.
  • High (Level 3) – any impact that is severe, having regard to the importance of interests affected, impairment of function and duration. Typically, the impact impairs a critical function and/or has a systemic impact and the effects may be long-lasting or permanent.

 

Joiners must ensure an assessment has been made of any hazards, which covers:

  • What the potential hazard is – the risk assessment should take into consideration the type of electrical equipment used, the way in which it is used and the environment it is used in
  • Who or what could be harmed by the hazard
  • How the level of risk has been established
  • The precautions taken to eliminate or control that risk

 

Managing risk is an ongoing process that is triggered when changes affect a joiner’s work activities; changes such as, but not limited to:

  • Changing work practices, procedures or the work environment
  • Purchasing new or used equipment or using new substances
  • Workforce changes
  • Planning to improve efficiency or reduce costs
  • New information about the workplace risks becomes available

 

Risk assessments should be recorded and records regularly reviewed and updated whenever necessary. Should an accident occur, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) will request copies of the risk assessments.

Power equipment

The Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 (PUWER) places duties on people and companies who own, operate or have control over work equipment. PUWER also places responsibilities on businesses and organisations whose employees use work equipment, whether owned by them or not.

PUWER requires that equipment provided for use at work is:

  • Suitable for the intended use.
  • Safe for use, maintained in a safe condition and inspected to ensure it is correctly installed and does not subsequently deteriorate.
  • Accompanied by suitable health and safety measures, such as protective devices and controls. These will normally include emergency stop devices, adequate means of isolation from sources of energy, clearly visible markings and warning devices.
  • Used in accordance with specific requirements, for mobile work equipment and power presses.
  • Some work equipment is subject to other health and safety legislation in addition to PUWER. For example, lifting equipment must also meet the requirements of LOLER (The Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations); pressure equipment must meet the Pressure Systems Safety Regulations; and personal protective equipment must meet the PPE Regulations.

 

Joiners can use a wide variety of woodcutting machinery in the course of their work. These might include, but are not limited to:

  • Dimension (panel) saw – in addition to ripping, these saws can be used in various modes including cross-cutting and grooving. It is very important, however, to use the correct blade and it is important that the guard is adjusted to cover both blades when in use.
  • Circular saw bench – generally used for cutting in line with the grain. As with the panel saw, as well as risk from contact with the blade there is also a risk of being struck by an ejected workpiece.
  • Cross-cut saw – guards must cover as much of the blade as possible and cross-cut saws should now either be fitted with a brake or a device to pull back the cutting head, locating the blade within a safe protected area. There should also be a “no-go” area for hands – 300mm either side of the blade – to prevent the blade from being pulled over the thumb or fingers accidentally.
  • Surface planer – used in the initial preparation of wood, producing flat faces and square edges. Problems can occur when fingers get dragged between the fence and guard and contact the cutters.
  • Vertical spindle moulder – one of the most versatile machines in woodworking, it can be used for mouldings, rebates and curved work. However, it can be dangerous if not used correctly, because of the risk of contact with the tool, and ejection of the tool part or workpiece.
  • Re-saws – these machines have powered rollers for fast ripping operations and because of the high noise levels are usually fitted with soundproof enclosures.
  • Narrow band saws – it is important that there is a guard under the table to prevent the blade from being ejected if it snaps, as well as accidental contact during use. A clicking noise is indicative of a cracked blade.
  • Thicknesser – used after the surface planer to reduce thicknesses. The main danger is from ejected material, hence anti-kickback feet are fitted.
  • High-speed router – used for rebates and mouldings, generally one-off jobs rather than using a spindle moulder. Material is fed towards the direction of the cutters. Old-style cutters have open cutters that can pull a hand in if contact is made. New cutters are built up, designed to force fingers away, rather than pull them in, in the event of contact.
  • Single-ended tenoning machine – used to cut tenon profiles for mortice holes, across the grain. The workpiece is held in place by pads. The operator works close to the cutting heads, so guarding is important.
  • Four-sided planer/moulders – this takes large sections of rough timber and either planes or produces profiles with its four cutting heads so all four sides can be worked in one pass. Newer models have interlocked enclosures and remote access for tool adjustment, with the interlock cutting power, stopping the feed and applying braking. Older models should be provided with a noise enclosure which can reduce noise levels to below 90dB. Adjustable guards around the cutters will still be required.
  • Straight line edger – used to machine a rough-edged board, which is where the bark, of variable thickness, is still on. Boards are power fed into a circular saw that is set between two sets of rollers. The main risk is from ejected offcuts and kickbacks, therefore additional guarding is essential at the take-off end and anti-kickback features are fitted.
  • Morticer – used for producing square holes and tenons with the slot produced from overlapping the square holes. Similar in action to a pedestal drill, with a lever pulling down the cutter. Generally, a low-risk machine, with the main danger being the ejection of the workpiece when using chain cutters so it is important that it is clamped effectively. Another danger is accidental contact with the cutters so it is also important to switch off the machine when changing the workpiece. However, even accidental contact with the cutters when the machine is switched off can still cut hands.
  • Sanders (disc, bobbin and belt) – the main risk is from ejection.

 

Joiners should always use power tools correctly and only use what they are trained to use. They should check all hand tools and equipment for faults before using them and maintain up-to-date maintenance reports to assess the tools’ safety.

Why is PPE important

Personal protective equipment (PPE) protects workers from hazards such as trips, burns, cuts and falls. While there is some PPE that is universal to many trades, joiners have certain PPE which is specific to their job. Joiners are exposed to a variety of risks associated with their work such as awkward postures, handling of dangerous materials, use of machine tools such as planes and circular saws, allergic reactions, respiratory problems due to dust, splinters of wood – the dangers are many.

To avoid possible injury, wearing personal protective equipment is a real necessity. This includes:

  • Gloves – as a joiner is working with their hands using dangerous tools and working with wood, it is essential that they have protection for their hands at all times. Gloves are necessary to protect the joiner’s hands from splinters and cuts and can allow them to work with confidence knowing that their hands are protected.
  • Dust masks and respirators – when working with wood, a lot of dust and particles are created that can cause a range of breathing problems, including permanent scarring of the lungs. Fumes are also produced by wood treatments and other products like varnish, wood paint and solvents. This is why it is important to use high-quality dust masks and/or respirators to reduce the risk of inhaling coarse particles or chemical fumes. The type of protection should prevent irritation of the airways and the onset of long-term conditions, and must always be chosen to match the hazards and risks at hand.
  • Eye protection – similarly, a joiner will also need eye protection from wood splintering, dust or sawdust or even more dangerous products and other particles in the air. Wearing goggles will provide full protection without worrying about something flying into the eyes and causing damage.
  • Ear protection – joiners often work in a noisy environment. Machines and tools used daily emit a high noise level. Failure to wear dedicated hearing protection equipment such as noise-cancelling headphones, earplugs or earmuffs, either reusable or disposable, can lead to severe damage to the eardrum, tinnitus or even irreversible hearing loss in one or both ears.
  • Head protection – highly vulnerable and very exposed on most job sites, the head must be protected with a hard hat designed for joiners. It must be highly resistant to impacts, fire and penetration.
  • Protective clothing – joiners should wear the correct protective clothing to match the working conditions and the potential risks of each situation, for example cut resistant sleeves.
  • Safety shoes – these are designed to limit the risk of minor to serious foot injuries. In the workshop, joiners may be at risk of falling objects like timbers or tools and there is a risk of perforation from tools or materials. Non-slip or waterproof footwear should be worn in slip-prone areas.
  • Safety signage there are plenty of hazards to avoid in any workshop. It is important to signpost these correctly to keep everyone safe. A wide range of safety signs are likely to be needed to display within the workspace in order to keep site users fully informed, while also complying with health and safety standards. From prohibition signs ensuring joiners don’t unknowingly create risks, to safety and control signs to explain protective processes.
  • Fire prevention – working with wood is always a fire risk. As one of the most flammable materials on earth, it is essential to have adequate fire protection and prevention in place within a joinery business. From fire exit hardware and intumescent strips, to fire signage and extinguishers, a wide range of equipment is required to meet satisfactory fire safety regulations.

What training should joiners take?

When joiners are trained to work safely, they should be able to anticipate and avoid injury from job-related hazards. Safety training is essential for all joiners appropriate to their role, and training should be directly applicable to the responsibilities and daily practices of the person being trained.

Training Courses

This training for joiners might include, but is not limited to:

  • Health and Safety for Employees
  • Health and Safety for Managers
  • Manual Handling
  • Workplace First Aid
  • COSHH Awareness
  • Slips, Trips and Falls
  • Fire Safety Awareness
  • Assessing Risk
  • Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

 

Joiners should at a minimum refresh their safety training at least every 2 years and participate in continuing professional development (CPD).