We tend to call accidents, accidents, as if we had nothing to do with the event and it was beyond our control. But if you take reasonable precautions then the majority of so-called accidents can be avoided.
The most obvious danger is coming into contact with bandsaws, chainsaws and circular saws, grinders, rotating pieces of wood and sharp tools. But there are two other, insidious dangers, that don’t cause pain or immediate effect. These are noise and dust. The effects of both are cumulative and long term, reducing both quality and even length of life. I do have a few scars from sharp edges of tools, the significance of which became negligible a few weeks after the event. But the asthma, for which I have regular medication; the loss of hearing and tinnitus, which I have had for years, will only get worse. And these are probably down to woodturning.
Safety has to be something we do naturally as part of our normal routine. If safety causes inconvenience or even expense, then there is always a tendency to ignore it. But when it comes to woodturning, safety and efficient working practices have more in common than you might think. For example, when sharpening my tools, I stand to the side of the grinder so that I am close to the action, with a good view of the sharpening and good tool control. From a safety point of view I am no longer in line with the sparks generated and if a wheel did break, I am not in the main danger area (although I have never known a wheel to break). If you do much the same when turning you are not as likely to get covered in shavings or be in line with the wood, if it should unfortunately come out of the lathe. So thinking safety can improve your working practices.
I have what I call primary safety and secondary safety. Primary safety is the avoidance of danger and staying away, such as standing to one side when switching on the lathe for the first time with a new piece of wood. Secondary safety is the addition of safety equipment, whether it be personal protection or in the workshop. Personally, I try to achieve primary safety whenever possible: I turn green wood to minimize dust (and it is much more fun than turning dry wood).
My dust extractor is outside the workshop to reduce noise and dust, and I always keep my workshop clean and well-organized.
A warm workshop is a comfortable environment in which to work and this can also reduce the risk of accidents, but not if the heat comes from a wood shavings stove. These are likely to get covered in shavings and I know of two turners’ workshops that have burnt down.
Accidents Do Happen
Even if after taking all necessary precautions, you do have an accident, be prepared to deal with the consequences. Keep a first aid kit handy; even some first aid training would not go amiss. Keep a suitable fire extinguisher by the exit or better still, in an adjacent shed. Don’t forget that they need regular maintenance and validating. Keep a telephone handy to call for help. And if all else fails, have a good insurance policy.
Some More Dos and Don’ts
Make sure that manufacturers’ safety equipment is correctly fitted to all machinery.
Keep the noise down. Machinery is noisy and can make the workshop uncomfortable, so keep noise down by having as much as possible of machinery outside the workroom or wear ear protectors.
Minimize the dust in the atmosphere by having a dust extraction system which does not recirculate fine dust. If possible, place the dust extractor outside the workshop to reduce dust and noise.
Be messy! A workshop that is tidy and well-organized is a safer working environment. It is also easier to find things when they’re not covered in shavings.
Don’t forget to have all the appropriate the equipment handy so it is easy to use.