Woodworking machinery, because of the way it is constructed and operated, can be dangerous and result in severe injuries, unless used properly and with the necessary safeguards in place.
Wood processing machinery is usually fitted with sharp fast moving blades or specialised cutters that are usually not easy to guard safely.
Four types of woodworking machines generally account for a large percentage of injuries. Circular saws of various types account for 40%, planing machines for 25%, vertical spindle moulding machines (including high speed routing machines) for 11% and band-saw machines for 6%. The remaining 18% of injuries are caused by various machines with limited application within the woodworking industry.
Information gleaned from NSSA’s investigation of accidents associated with woodworking machinery show that management failure to provide adequate safeguards is the major cause of accidents.
However, there are also many instances where machine operators fail to properly use or adjust the safety guards that have been provided.
Repetitive work, the false sense of being well accustomed to machinery and fatigue may lead to inattention. Safe operation of machinery requires constant alertness and close attention to the work at hand.
There is evidence that blunt saws or cutters not only lower the quality of work but also account for many accidents.
For some tasks, even if the best possible guards are used, the risks may not be completely eliminated.
Whenever possible, appliances such as jigs, push sticks and holders must be made available and be used to keep the hands of the machinist as far away from dangerous moving parts as possible.
Being injured by cutters and other moving parts of machinery are not the only risks that wood processing workers are exposed to. Wood processing machines usually produce unsafe levels of noise and dust. Several cases of severe hearing loss are reported to NSSA every year.
Wood dust is not as “innocent” as one might think. Several types of hardwood are known to adversely affect the respiratory system. Nasal cancer can also be induced by such dust.
Appropriate engineering intervention measures need to be undertaken to mitigate these risks. Dust extraction using suction-
exhaust systems from as close to the point of origin as possible need to be employed.
Regulations made in 1976 in terms of the Factories and Works Act, namely Machinery Regulations RGN 302 of 1976, require a notice to be displayed at premises where woodworking machinery is used outlining safety measures that have to be observed.
The measures, which are set out in Part V, sections 39 to 44, of the machinery regulations, can be summarised as follows:
All exposed parts of machinery such as belts, pulleys, gears and shafts must be securely guarded or fenced and no person must trespass within such guards or fences.
The cleaning, oiling, repairing or adjusting of machinery in motion is prohibited.
Persons working with or near moving parts of machinery must not wear loose outer clothing.
Driving belts must not be thrown off or put on while machinery is in motion.
Any employee who notices anything which is liable to cause danger to anyone must report it at once to the person in charge.
The floors around all machines must be kept in a good and level condition and as far as possible clear of all materials and waste.
Every circular saw must be fitted with a guard and riving knife, as prescribed in the regulations. The machine operator is responsible for ensuring that the guard and riving knife are kept properly adjusted, as far as the class of work will permit.
Cylindrical cutter-blocks and bridge-guards must be fitted to all planing machines which are not mechanically fed. The operator is responsible for having the bridge-guard properly adjusted both vertically and horizontally to suit the dimensions of the wood being planed.
Whenever possible, an efficient guard should be used on a spindle moulding machine.
When this is impracticable, a false fence should be attached to the existing fence, or the wood to be moulded should be held in a jig or holder.
Persons in charge of woodworking machinery are required personally to instruct inexperienced employees working under them about the dangers associated with the operation of such machinery and the safety precautions which must be observed.
Any accident must be reported immediately to the employer.
The importance of proper training cannot be overemphasised. All those who work with or close to woodworking machinery need to be trained. That includes those whose job it is to take off cut pieces or to assist the operator in other ways.
Verbal instructions alone cannot be accepted as “training”. Practical demonstrations should be given on safe working practices.
There should be close supervision of trainees until it becomes clear that correct practice has become second nature to them.
Further information on particular woodworking machinery and wood processing activities can be obtained by reading the regulations referred to above or from any NSSA office.
- Talking Social Security is published weekly by the National Social Security Authority as a public service. There is also a weekly radio programme, PaMhepo neNssa/Emoyeni le NSSA, discussing social security issues at 6:50 pm every Thursday on Radio Zimbabwe and 6:50pm every Friday on National FM. Readers can e-mail issues they would like dealt with in this column to email@example.com or text them to 0735 041 278. Those with individual queries should contact their local NSSA office or telephone NSSA on (04) 706517-8 or 706523-5.