General Shop Safety
Shop work can be safe, enjoyable and productive, IF some very basic and simple rules are
followed. Most of the rules are common-sense, but failure to follow them will greatly increase
the chance of injury. The shop is not the place to be in a hurry or have an "it won't happen to
me" attitude. Commit these rules to habit and your work experiences will be safer.
1. Always Wear Appropriate Safety Equipment
Safety Glasses are the most important piece of safety equipment. There are many styles
of safety glasses, but all share the same features: impact resistant lenses and side screens
to protect against dust and debris created by power tools. Put them on when working
with equipment and don't remove them until after the power is off and all motion has
stopped. Standard eye glasses are not acceptable. Safety glasses must meet or exceed
ANSI Z87.1-2003 requirements. Eyesight is too important to take chances.
Hearing Protection is required when working with loud power tools and machinery such
as routers, surface planers, and joiners. There are two common types: expandable ear
plugs and ear muffs. Ear Muffs provide slightly better protection, but may be viewed as
wieldy and cumbersome. Some woodworkers will even employ both types
simultaneously. Consistent use of hearing protection will help prevent long-term hearing
Dust and Respirator Masks are important when using sanders, routers and other power
tools that can generate a lot of dust and fine debris. When using these types of tools,
workers may wear a dust mask to keep particulates from entering the lungs and airways.
When spraying varnish or paint a respirator is a better choice, providing protection from
any harmful chemical effects, if appropriate safety programs are in place (ask the
Face Shields are advised, in addition to using safety glasses, when using high-speed
equipment, such as a lathe or drill press, since flying debris may be generated. Shields
are comfortable, can be flipped up when not needed, and will keep most of the flying
materials away from the face. They too must meet or exceed ANSI Z87.1-2003
2. Wear Appropriate Clothing
Avoid loose-fitting clothing which could become entangled in a saw blade, cutting head,
or other moving part. Comfortable, long-sleeved shirts and long pants combined with
good steel-toed work shoes will each provide a layer of protection. A shop apron is also
Remove jewelry before beginning work. Chains, bracelets, and even close fitting rings
and watches can snag on equipment resulting in serious injury.
3. Absolutely NO Drugs and/or Alcohol
Stay out of the wood shop if you are even remotely under the influence of any drugs or
intoxicants. Mind-altering substances and shop equipment are a dangerous mix,
including prescription and over-the-counter medicines.
4. Disconnect Power Before Servicing Equipment
Disconnect the electricity to the equipment when a blade or bit is to be changed. Do not
trust the off switch, since switches can be bumped or malfunction.
5. Be Familiar with the Equipment
Check the safety features of the equipment, before the power is turned on, to make
certain that they are set and functioning properly, such as blade guards, anti-kickback
pawls, and shields. This check begins with reading and understanding the owner's
In addition to the safety features, each piece of equipment has specific risks attributed to
the use of that tool, such as stock spinning on a drill press, waste projectiles from the
table saw, and blade breakage on a band saw. Be aware of potential equipment-specific
6. Equipment Must Be In Good Shape
Dull cutting tools are dangerous tools. The tool and worker will have to work harder to
complete the desired task; kick-back and/or binding will be more likely. A sharper
cutting tool also produces a cleaner cut, so there are more than just safety advantages
Do not use equipment with frayed or exposed wiring or if grounding plug is damaged or
not functional. Strain relief portions of the electrical cords must be intact and functional.
Disconnect the power, tag it, “Do Not Use,” and notify the instructor.
All guides, blocks, bearings, and wheels should be regularly checked for wear and
adjusted per the manufacturer's recommendations.
7. Be Familiar with the Working Materials
Inspect stock before cutting. Always check wood stock for embedded metal: nails,
screws, staples, etc. Knots and other natural imperfections can also be a hazard. Hard
objects and rapidly spinning saw blades are not a good mix. Not only can this damage
the cutting head and the stock, but can cause kick back, which is a common cause of
8. Do Not Start the Saw With the Blade Engaged
Start the saw and be certain that the blade is spinning freely and not engaged with the
stock. The blade should be allowed to reach full speed before beginning the cut.
9. Always Work Against the Cutter
Woodworking power tools are designed so that the direction that the wood moves
through the tool, opposite the direction of the movement of the cutting head. In other
words, the cutter should cut into the stock.
10. Maintain a Good Position
When standing at the equipment, the worker should maintain a good, solid stance with a
wide base to keep good balance. Additionally, one should not stand such that a kickback
will be directed into the body, but will slide past the operator.
11. Keep Free of the Blade
Never put your hands anywhere near a moving blade, especially when attempting to
remove waste or cut-offs. Wait until the blade has stopped moving and then reach using
a piece of scrap or a push stick to move the waste away from the blade. Remember that
switches can be inadvertently bumped or malfunction, so just because the blade has
stopped does not mean it is now safe.
Do not attempt to "free-hand" stock in mid-air. The stock must remain flat on the surface
of the table at all times during the cut. The worker should use the fence or miter gauge to
guide the stock whenever possible. Use push sticks when necessary.
Small pieces should be held in an appropriate jig. At no time during any of your cuts
should your hands be any closer than about three inches from the blade; the same is true
of sanding or grinding.
12. Avoid Distractions
Always finish the cut to a safe conclusion before dealing with a distraction. Distractions
are a part of everyday life and working in the wood shop is no different, but taking your
attention away from running shop equipment is a recipe for disaster. Someone who
might be inclined to interrupt or disrupt another who is working with machinery must
wait until the cut is complete, allowing the worker to give full attention to their work.
13. Let the Tool Do the Work
Do not force the action of shop equipment. Allow the blade or bit to do the work at its
own speed. Take your time. Hurrying leads to mistakes and accidents.
14. Keep the Work Area Clean
Keep the bench and surrounding area clear of other tools, stock, cutoffs and excess
sawdust. Any of these can get in the way or impair the ability to make safe, clean cuts.
A loose piece of stock or tool could become a projectile if it contacts a moving blade.
A clean and neat shop is a safe shop. Put tools back where they belong when finished,
have a garbage can handy, sort nails, screws, and other hardware in containers, and sweep
up at the end of the day.
15. Use Feed Tables/Stands When Appropriate
When cutting large pieces of stock, such as a full sheet of plywood, position an outfeed
table or stand to help support the stock. Using these helpers will make the pieces being
cut more stable and the cut easier to complete. Another worker can seldom stabilize
oversized stock enough to prevent pinching and binding.
16. Never Leave Running Equipment Unattended
17. No Smoking or Open Flame
18. NO HORSEPLAY!
19. Ask Questions
If you are unsure of any equipment, procedure, safety rule, etcetera, ask questions. When
it comes to safety, the only bad or stupid question is the one left unasked.
20. In Case All Else Fails
Be prepared for emergencies. Have a phone handy. Know where the fire extinguisher
and first aid kit is located. Know the best escape routes from the shop.
Employees are subject to OSHA regulations; therefore, respirators and dust mask use must
comply with OSHA.
Employers are encouraged to take advantage of the voluntary wearing of employer provided N95
dust masks when dust levels are below nuisance levels. All employees must be given Subpart D
to the OSHA Respiratory Standards for voluntary use of dust masks.
Respirators, when required to prohibit vapors, must only be used following a medical exam and
clearance. Respirators are also specific to the hazard. Prior to mandatory use of respirators, a
hazard assessment must be completed, a Respiratory Protection Program initiated, and training
When laying out the arrangement of the machines and tools in your shop, pay special attention to
lighting. A well-lit shop is a safer shop. In a well-lit shop, every work space and machine has
ample lighting positioned so that shadows do not occur to the point that the woodworker's
productivity is hindered or safety compromised. To accomplish this, numerous types of lighting
can be employed.
Most of the light in the workshop should come from overhead lighting. The fixtures should be
spread relatively evenly to provide consistent overall lighting throughout the entire shop.
On some equipment, in addition to the overall lighting, it may be advantageous to place spot
lights directly over your tools and workbenches.
Some tools, such as a Drill Press, come pre-installed with small dedicated spotlights that provide
clean, direct light on your work. Some woodworking suppliers sell small aftermarket spotlights
that can be added onto these tools if they don't come pre-installed. While these are terrific for
supplementary lighting, they shouldn't be used as the sole source of light on the work space.
Optimizing the Lighting in your Shop:
Probably the easiest way to help make your shop brighter and consistently well-lit is to paint the
ceiling, walls and anything else that isn't nailed down white. The white walls will do a good job
of reflecting light throughout the room. This one tip will make a huge difference in how light is
diffused in the shop.
Many small professional shops, an adequate dust collector falls in the "luxury item" category -
with so many other tools to buy, a dust collection system that really handles the dust can stay at
the bottom of the priority list for a long time. Here are a few reasons to start taking dust seriously
Aside from obviously reducing fire hazards, research continues into the health consequences of
long-term exposure to workshop dust. In the debate over the seriousness of the health risks
involved in exposure to wood dust, one thing seems to be universally accepted: the risks are
real. A quick search on the internet will bring up hundreds of sources of information on the
health consequences associated with woodshop dust exposure, including widely recognized
organizations like the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). Here's an
excerpt from its introduction to the topic of Wood Dust and Health, “Wood dust becomes a
potential health problem when wood particles from processes such as sanding and cutting
become airborne. Breathing these particles may cause allergic respiratory symptoms, mucosal
and non-allergic respiratory symptoms, and cancer...”
Take dust removal seriously.
Provide a fire extinguisher, first aid kit and fixed eyewash station (which may be salvaged from
the Science Building remodel and plumbed onto an existing fixture).
Make sure all tools are using adequately grounded receptacles.
MSDS Sheets are required to be on-site for all hazardous chemicals and/or products used.
Appropriate storage cabinets need to be provided for storage of corrosive and/or flammable