Reducing the risk of fire in woodworking

by Alex on November 18, 2014

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The Health and Safety Executive recently issued an open letter to the structural timber community explaining the expectations of the group when it comes to controlling fire hazards at work sites. The woodworking industry has one of the highest accident rates in all of manufacturing, and there have been instances in which a fire has moved from a building under construction to neighbouring buildings, further increasing the amount of damage done and the risk of serious injury.

Here are five things you can do to reduce the risk of a fire at a work site.

1. Complete a safety assessment

A proper safety check will help carpenters and other woodworkers head off problems down the road by identifying potential sources of ignition and fuel before the work gets fully under way. It will also help workers become more aware of fire hazards and safety precautions, encouraging a safer workplace for everyone.

2. Control wood dust

A dense fog of wood dust in the air increases the risk of fire and explosion, and could potentially prove catastrophic to workers, members of the public, and the structure being worked on. By properly ventilating and extracting the wood dust, the risk is reduced. However, it’s also important to keep potential sources of ignition away from the extraction system, as this is where many woodworking-related fires are started.

3. Eliminate sources of ignition

For a fire to get started, it needs heat—and by controlling the sources of heat at the work site, you can significantly reduce the chances of a fire or explosion. Common sources of ignition include portable heaters, machinery that creates sparks, cigarettes, and faulty electrical equipment. Often, you won’t be able to remove all of the potential ignition sources. When this is the case, it’s important to make sure workers are aware of the risks and their surroundings.

4. Properly dispose of off-cuts

When doing a lot of wood cutting, it can be tiresome and time-consuming to properly dispose of off-cuts, and instead they get piled around saws and other machinery. This can pose a large number of risks, including creating a dangerous source of fuel for a fire. Off-cuts and other disposable pieces of wood should be placed in a skip or another container away from the work site.

5. Ensure proper distance during construction

To minimise the risk of a small fire becoming a very large one, it’s important to make sure that all woodworks are properly separated from surroudning structures during construction. The Structural Timber Association has created a guide on separating distance—you can find it, along with several other useful guides, on their Site Safe webpage.

Safety is a group effort

Staying safe on at the work site isn’t just the safety manager’s job—it’s everyone’s. Increasing worker’s knowledge about woodworking fire hazards is the best way to not only reduce the likelihood of fires, but severely reduce the amount of damage that’s done if one does break out.

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