Woodshop safety amid a labor shortage

Woodshops have experienced some turbulent times over the past three years. Global pandemics, skyrocketing lumber prices, and a stalled supply chain were just some of the challenges. When you toss in the labor shortage, it can be easy for owners and manufacturers to let safety and risk mitigation fall by the wayside.

With fewer workers on the floor, and some of them less trained than others, general safety tasks and procedures can be completed incorrectly, or skipped entirely, leaving the business vulnerable to employee accidents, damage and more. Taking the time to check the essentials will ensure that your business runs safely, smoothly and profitably.

There are several aspects of doing business in a woodshop or wood manufacturing facility that, if not approached properly, can greatly increase a woodshop’s risk exposure:

  • Electrical wiring – While it has been used for more than a century in the workplace, electricity continues to be a common workplace hazard. Faulty wiring can lead to bodily injury, nerve damage or worse. One of the most serious electrical threats to woodshops comes from improperly used extension cords that cause equipment failure or lead to fire and explosions in areas where combustible dust is present. To keep the business safe, woodshop owners should prohibit the use of extension cords and use UL-approved power strips for computers.  Extension cords in the shop area should be minimized and used only with portable tools and equipment. Further, owners should be sure staff is not connecting extension cords to one another or burying them under rugs or stock where a damaged cord would be hidden from view.  
  • Commercial auto – Commercial auto continues to be a leading source of insurance claims across the wood industry, among others. Owners and operators must be sure they are working with drivers who are properly licensed, screened and trained. Training should be completed regularly throughout the driver’s employment. Business owners can also consider driver monitoring programs and telematics to be sure their drivers are safe.  
  • Wood dust – As mentioned above, wood dust can fuel fire and explosions in a woodshop without proper housekeeping and wood dust collection equipment. To reduce exposure to wood dust, business owners should ensure surfaces, floors and more are cleaned regularly. Consider investing in a quality dust control system, and make sure that the system is properly maintained. 
  • Flammable liquids – Flammable liquids are also commonly found in a woodworking facility. Alcohol-based paints, lacquers, turpentine and more are often used by wood shops and wood manufacturers and could easily ignite given the right situation. To reduce risk, woodshop owners should consider using a professionally installed UL Listed/FM-approved spray booth, install a sprinkler system or chemical fire suppression system, and remove flammable vapors with a quality exhaust system. 
  • Poorly maintained equipment – Regular maintenance on equipment is critical to keeping them running safely. Preventive maintenance should be performed by a professional on a routine schedule with documentation provided. 
  • Improperly stored inventory – With the inventory fluctuations that are accompanying the current supply chain crisis and labor shortage, it can be difficult for staff to physically manage inventory. Employees should ensure that sightlines are maintained in warehouses and that materials are stacked only to a predetermined safe level. Inventory should not block fire suppression systems.

Need a trained staff

Without a properly trained staff, most of these risk mitigation tips are moot. While it may be challenging to find quality team members, employers must continue to maintain high standards in who they hire. They should make sure all employees are trained to operate the equipment before them and safely do their jobs. Business owners should be sure to regularly review safety standards and training materials with team members to ensure the information stays at the forefront of their minds. 

When staffing shortages occur, it can be easy for managers to become overwhelmed by the number of hats they have to wear. With proper risk mitigation protocols in place, owners can ensure employee safety and reduce overall risk exposure.

While taking steps to mitigate your risk is critical to keeping a business operating safely, it is also essential you have a comprehensive insurance policy in place should the worst happen. 

Source: Michael Culbreth is a loss control services consultant with Pennsylvania Lumbermens Mutual Insurance Company. For information, call 267-825-9146 or visit plmins.com.


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