Don’t get paranoid over safety, its enough that I am. As a retired Company Safety Manager I had to look after all the product public liability issues across a very wide range of aerospace electronics equipment in the defence and capital civil market. I also had to cover occupational health and safety across the whole workforce, some 2,500 people. There were also serious environmental safety issues. My workplace stress level as senior management was huge and my woodturning hobby was how I controlled it. I predated all the fancy health and safety college qualifications, in my time we simply had to work directly from the regulations and codes of practice themselves and it all went pear shaped with harmonization with Europe when everything got rewritten. In my day however the safety man’s job was to make the workplace safe not get in the way. I was expected to find alternative ways of doing things to avoid dangerous practices but stopping the work was not an option.

What follows is what happens when the professional safety manager looks to his own workshop and it was done for completeness in satisfying consumer law and insurance requirements.

The workshop was also once successfully vetted by Trident so that I could take a lad in on work experience (he did very well but I have not done it again as it slowed me down too much).

Workplace safety assessment.

    1. Introduction

    The workshop consists of a double garage fitted with extensive steel shelving and storage cabinets and a wide range of woodworking tools and machinery. The facility began as a hobby workshop and developed into woodcrafts, then took on a near industrial aspect when the occupant’s engineering/safety career ended and self-employment as a craft worker took over. It proved impossible to maintain an adequate year-long income from production alone, due to the seasonal nature of craft sales outlets, teaching the craft filled the income gaps. A large proportion of the teaching activity is done on behalf of the local Adult Education Authority in their own workshops but a better service to the Client can be provided on a one-to-one basis in a smaller scale environment. To this end the workshop has been changed back towards a hobby style using tools and machinery readily available to the Clients from retail outlets. The heavier duty facilities are still present but not obvious and not offered for the client’s use. The dust extraction plant for example is far beyond normal hobby craft facilities, in power and efficiency, installed outside and ducted to all workstations to eliminate noise.

    Over an 18-year period there have been a number of health problems and minor accidents but they have served to show the real rather than the initially perceived hazards. While the bigger machines, especially saws, look dangerous, 90% of accidents have involved screwdrivers and hammers. Of the health issues, some allergies have developed (Iroko and Afromosa woods and white spirit) and the allergens eliminated. Backache was a problem until proper lifting and moving facilities were acquired and all workstation heights adjusted.

    The occupant’s career in health and safety followed on from one of electrical engineering and did not terminate until redundancy in 1994 leaving a very useful and still reasonably current awareness of necessary health and safety requirements. Being fully aware of the legal liabilities involved in all the current range of business activities, comprehensive insurance was considered a necessity. Starting with Product and Public Liability, with elements of Occupational Health and Safety, Employer Liability Indemnity came as part of the package even though no persons are normally employed. (Then Cornhill now AXA) With such a large investment in facilities and materials plus increased “risks” to domestic property the “all risk” element is extensive so that overall a lot of work has had to be done to satisfy the insurers that all reasonably practicable precautions have and are being taken. NB Risk here refers to insurer’s terminology e.g. fire, malicious damage, burglary etc.)

    What follows is a detailed listing of the identified health and safety hazards and the precautionary measures in place to reduce risk to a reasonably acceptable level. The effectiveness of these measures can only be judged by hindsight, the only clear statement possible being that; “from 1994, operating full time to date, nothing beyond the cuts bruises and scratches normally expected in a DIY environment have occurred with the current facilities”

    2. Machinery hazards.

    All rotating machinery involves some degree of hazard and as woodturning fundamentally requires full access by very sharp tools to spinning, irregularly shaped lumps of wood it has to be the worker’s own awareness and self control that prevents this form of intrinsic hazard from becoming a real danger. Some persons, a very small proportion of the general population, are known to become mesmerized by spinning objects and find an irresistible urge to reach out and touch them. Such persons can only be identified by direct observation at first exposure. Beginners are taught workshop safe conduct and best practice early in all courses. Approved eye protection is worn at all times together with appropriate clothing and footwear.

    Grinding wheels pose a particular hazard. No person is permitted to work with the grinding machines before being made fully aware of the hazards and the methods of establishing and maintaining safety. (Sticking up the standard sign and making the user responsible is not sufficient, especially as the industrial regulation’s standard poster advocates the use of the spurwheel dresser which is not suitable for amateur usage on hobby standard machines)

    All appliances including machinery are purchased as “hobby” standard to normal public retail quality and safety codes because this is a training environment towards a safe lifelong hobby to come. Tools, machinery, materials and other items requiring the facilities and training of an industrial or specialist environment are excluded.

    3. Electrical hazards.

    All electrical appliances and machinery comply with safety standards current at the point of acquisition and are subject to routine safety inspection or testing as appropriate. The code of practice issued by the Institution of Electrical Engineers is used, all appliances carry current safety certification stickers and formal records are kept of the inspections and tests. All equipment is installed as appliances so that only one safety code of practice applies (IEE Appliances) All electrical safety work is carried out by a “qualified person” see H&SE electricity at work publications and Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (e.g. the occupant G.Woollvin BSc.(hons) Electrical Engineering and MIEE.)

    All main supplies to all appliances are subject to RCD protection. All appropriate machinery used by clients is fitted with no-volt-release switchgear.

    Main workshop lighting is on a separate circuit to power and one unit (illuminating the exit) is on automatic battery backup.

    4. Fire hazards.

    The principal fire hazards are the flammables, wood dust and solvents. Wood dust is only a danger when lifted into suspension in air, in significant density, with means of ignition. To prevent this, heavy deposits are not allowed to accumulate. Extraction at source is the primary safety measure combined with periodic workshop cleaning.

    Flammable solvents are used from containers small enough to support only a day or two’s work. Bulk stocks of flammable substances are stored in a locked steel cabinet outside and well clear of the workshop escape route.

    A suitable fire extinguisher (capable of routine non-degrading testing) is fitted near the door in a permanent prominent position.

    Large quantities of combustible materials are a characteristic of a woodworking workshop and constitute insurance rather than safety issues. Block wood is difficult to ignite and shavings and dust tend to smolder rather than flame especially after being left a while to take up atmospheric moisture. This is the general case, during long hot summers or prolonged hard freezes, accumulations of light combustible materials can become “tinder dry” with obvious entrapment hazards from the speed of propagation of a fire. During such periods dangerous accumulations are not permitted even on a daily basis.

    4.  Toxic hazards

    Apart from wood dust the only relevant substances classified as toxic are the finishing products and some adhesives. Ingestion is virtually impossible due to their noxious nature and workshop quantities are small  (see above) but absorption of the aromatic components by inhalation is possible. Extraction facilities are maintained in an effective condition and used. All users of the materials are made aware of the hazards and best practice. The main risk is not from the proper usage of the substances but fumes and skin wetting from a spill. The principal solvent in the workshop is “Standard thinners” plus to a lesser extent ethanol, methanol, white spirit, acetone and isopropanol. (The ethanol has methanol as a contaminant e.g. “methylated spirit”) In addition to the fume hazard all have percutaneous narcotic properties and strong defatting capabilities, suitable disposable gloves are provided and used when appropriate.

    All finishing products are purchased, stored and used subject to COSHH and appropriately labeled at source. It is not reasonably practicable to maintain repeater labels on all the small working containers nor is it necessary if the contents of the containers are obvious and quantities are small enough to be reasonably non-hazardous. The labels on the supply containers are kept for the total duration of workshop presence and are regarded as the authoritative reference re hazard classification, substance controls, preventive measures and remedies.

    Wood dust is regarded as a potential human carcinogen but is only a hazard as such when sufficiently finely divided as to become fully respirable and at sufficient exposure to overcome elimination via mucus. Ordinary turning using chisels, gouges etc. produces shavings, chippings and sometimes coarse dust. The only time hazardous quantities of respirable dust is produced is during sanding the near finished work.. All affected workstations are equipped to extract such dust from the premises. Long term evaluation of this workshop shows the mean atmosphere level to be well below current safety standards but  clumsy sanding by beginners can reach 10 minute time weighted average limit levels at the workstation. Defense then is the use of extraction plus training as to best practice. Appropriate choice of respirators is taught towards the client’s future safety in their own workshops where dust extraction facilities are rare.

    Nuisance dust (e.g. too coarse to be classified as respirable) is generated and accumulates in the shavings and other detritus to become a health hazard if disturbed. The health hazard from such material is that of respiratory irritant leading typically to chronic bronchitis and emphysema after prolonged and severe exposure. Normal workshop hygiene effectively controls the hazard but a respirator is used during and immediately after clearance action. Vacuum appliances are the preferred method, brooms and brushes being well known to lift dust into suspension. The removed waste is rendered harmless by the addition of water and the preferred method of safe disposal is by composting.

    Allergic sensitization can be a problem in respect of the various woods, solvents and adhesives. Every course alerts the client to the risks and available remedies.

    5.  Summary

    The workshop is typical of that of any craftsman in wood and contains all the hazards traditionally experienced but controlled to acceptable levels of risk mainly by the occupant’s knowledge and skill. Where necessary modern occupational safety standards have been added to this traditional environment subject to current legislation and insurance requirements. The less usual element of risk is the presence of clients as beginners learning the craft towards setting up hobby workshops of their own. To control these extra risks the clients have to accept close supervision and prove trustworthy in following instruction. Clients with disabilities are only allowed access to the workshop and its facilities if their problems do not increase risks beyond reasonable expectations. This is recognized as discriminatory but is considered unavoidable and therefore acceptable. Client numbers are limited to the teacher’s ability to adequately supervise and depend on the nature of the individuals involved. Minors are limited to one and only admitted subject to parental consent.