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This Guidance Note is aimed at woodworking facilities, such as cabinet makers, manufacturing joiners and furniture makers which form a regular part of RSS surveys business, particularly in the SME arena. Wood processing facilities such as saw mills, the manufacture of plywood, particleboard and similar products, together with the manufacture of wood veneers for which special considerations apply have been excluded.



Despite the fact that woodworking facilities and the nature of the businesses encountered are diverse, all will involve some, if not all, of the general hazards of woodworking processes, for which fire and explosion risk assessment and control considerations are summarised as follows:

1. Waste Control

Owing to the combustible nature of timber and, just as importantly, the explosive nature of wood dust, ensuring that the correct attention is given to standards of housekeeping and the provision of effective waste control arrangements are key considerations for all woodworking facilities. In particular, this should include:

  • Maintaining a clean and orderly working environment.

  • Ensuring that all trade waste is swept and removed from the building at regular intervals, preferably at the end of the working day and in compliance with policy conditions where applied.

  • Prevention of the accumulation of wood dust by adopting a regular cleaning regime using appropriate vacuums fitted with HEPA-type filters. Cleaning to extend to walls, ledges, roof trusses and other areas where dust accumulates. 

  • External yards to be kept free of accumulated rubbish, and waste bins located in a safe area, secured as required.

  • No burning of waste except when in purpose designed waste burning heaters – see below. (Waste burning in the open is often encountered in woodworking facilities and should be discouraged at all times. In circumstances where this is unavoidable, it is essential that it takes place in a safe area at least 100m clear of all external storage and important buildings, is undertaken in a purpose designed, fully enclosed incinerator fitted with a spark arrestor, is attended at all times and extinguished out of working hours).

  • Strict compliance with smoke-free regulations.

  • Completion of a risk assessment in accordance with the Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmosphere Regulations 2002 (DSEAR) and required actions implemented.

Most woodworking facilities will contain waste extraction plant of some kind, ranging from a fabric filter sock collector serving a single sanding machine, to extensive waste extraction plant serving multiple machines and incorporating floor sweep inlets. In response to the hazards associated with wood waste, the HSE has produced Information Sheet WS32 - Safe collection of wood waste: Prevention of fire and explosion. This is an essential reference document for all Consultants.

It is important to recognise that whist waste extraction systems are a favourable risk feature, they can present hazards in themselves and strict attention should be given to ensuring that they are correctly designed and installed, operated and maintained in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions and that explosion venting and earth bonding has been incorporated, as required. In addition, spark detection and suppression systems may be installed or recommended (Technical Bulletins 16 & 42 refer).

Ideally, waste extraction systems should be sited externally, although circumstances will arise, particularly when dealing with small systems, where they are installed internally. In these circumstances the normal waste warranty requiring removal at the end of the day is likely to be breached, in which case this will require to be highlighted in the report.


2. Electrical Installation

Owing to the generally harsh environment and the propensity for dust to accumulate, electrical installations and equipment need to be maintained to a high standard, which should include the following:

  • Periodic electrical installation inspection and test at least once every three years, together with routine checks at least annually.

  • All electrical equipment including switchgear, machine motors, cable ducts, etc to be kept clear of waste and accumulated dust. This is vitally important when dealing with electric motors to ensure that ventilation apertures are kept clear.

  • Avoidance of temporary wiring and trailing leads.

  • PAT testing should be conducted regular at intervals as prescribed by the HSE.


3. Space Heating

Attention should be given to ensuring that a safe method of heating is employed commensurate with the environment. Fixed methods of gas or oil fired heating will always be preferred in woodworking facilities, with such appliances kept clear of combustible materials, guarded as required and operated and maintained in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions.

Waste wood burning heaters will commonly be encountered (Technical Bulletin 6 refers).


4. Flammable Liquids

Reference should be made to the DSEAR risk assessment and the provision of fire safely measures in respect of the storage and use of flammable and highly flammable liquids. Common materials and applications can include:

  • Use of highly flammable contact adhesives in connection with plastic laminates.

  • The spraying of flammable and highly flammable lacquers and other surface treatments, the arrangements for which should comply with RISCAuthority RC32 – Recommendations for fire safety in paint spraying processes.

  • French polishing employing various highly flammable solutions. Ensuring that all waste cloths are deposited in metal lidded, metal bins and are removed from the building at close of business is a key requirement of all French polishing processes.


5. Hot Work

Making sure that all hot work activity is carried out under a Hot Work Permit system is of paramount importance in all woodworking facilities (Survey Manual Technical Procedures – Hot Work Controls, and Technical Bulletin 33 refer). Prior to any hot work commencing, it is essential that the plant/area concerned is isolated and thoroughly cleaned.


6. Laminating

In addition to manual methods of plastics laminating, other lamination processes can be encountered which need to be correctly identified and assessed with particular reference to the presence of adhesives and the use of heat.

Domestic type electric irons are commonly employed for applying plastic edging strips to laminated boards. These need to come under the PAT testing regime and should be provided with plugs with fitted pilot lights and suitable non-combustible/heat resistant stands.


7.  Storage Yards

The size, height and nature of external timber storage facilities should be given close attention to avoid fire safety becoming compromised and to ensure, as a result, that the premises are not unduly exposed to arson (Technical Bulletin 43 refers). This should include the following:

  • The provision and maintenance of safe distances between the external timber storage and the buildings. As a general rule, a distance of 10m should be provided, although it should be recognised that where space is limited this may not always be achievable. 

  • Satisfactory standard of yard hygiene in place.

  • No waste burning.

  • Adequate security provided, commensurate with the risk.

Large timber yards adjoining major saw mills which require special consideration are not within the scope of this Guidance Note.


8.  Furniture Manufacturing

In addition to the risk control considerations associated with woodworking as detailed above, furniture manufacturing can involve further hazards depending on the type of products manufactured.

The production of upholstered furniture can involve large fabric cutting and sewing operations, together with the use of large quantities of foam plastic. Considerable amounts of waste can be produced and whilst the foam plastics will almost certainly be of a fire retardant grade, they nevertheless present a considerable fire risk when stored in bulk for which adequate fire compartmentation would normally be required.

Another common feature of furniture manufacturing is that of the storage and use of large amounts of combustible packing materials, including expanded polystyrene.

TG09: Woodworking Facilities

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