Risks to users from firewood processing machines

Health and Safety Executive - Safety alert

Department Name:
Agriculture and Food Sector

Bulletin No:
OPSTD 2-2011

Issue Date:
25 May 2011

Target Audience:
Users, manufacturers and suppliers of firewood processing machinery, arboriculture, forestry, agriculture.

Key Issues:
Recent accident investigations indicate that some firewood processing machines may be unsafe because the guards provided are too short or the other safety devices provided may be easily overcome.


In recent months HSE has investigated a number of serious accidents involving hands; including finger amputation, on some models of firewood processing machines. Initial conclusions suggest that these machines are not safe and are not fully compliant with the Machinery Directive (as implemented in the UK by the Supply of Machinery (Safety) Regulations 2008).


  • Typically firewood processing machines consist of both wood cutting and splitting stations. They may have a powered feed or be hand fed. The cut logs usually drop into a splitting zone where a ram pushes the short lengths of wood against a splitting plate. Some machines also have a discharge conveyor. There are also other designs which use a rotary knife and spike to cut and split the wood in one operation.
  • The cutting zone may comprise an automatic or semi automatic chainsaw or circular saw. The splitting ram is usually hydraulically powered. In addition to the obvious hazards from the circular or chainsaw (and any feed or discharge conveyor), these machines present significant trapping and crushing hazards from the splitting process, either between the ram and log, ram and splitting plate, or log and splitting plate.
  • Guarding provided on some existing machines does not sufficiently prevent finger/hand access to these dangerous parts as the guards seen were too short. In one case the interlocked guard did not stop the moving ram.
  • Whilst there is a European Standard for simple log splitting machines (BS EN 609-1:1999 Safety of log splitters Part 1: Wedge splitters) this standard does not give presumption of conformity with key aspects of the Machinery Directive, particularly risks from moving parts. Neither does it deal fully with these combined cutting/splitting (firewood processing) machines. On a dual-purpose machine only the log splitter part of the machine is covered by this standard.

Action required:

Users should:

  • Ensure that machines are used and maintained in accordance with the manufacturers' instructions.
  • Check that all guards and other safety protective devices (including interlock devices) are adjusted and functioning correctly (eg the machine does not operate with interlocked guards open). The machine should not be used until any significant faults are corrected.
  • Where the controls require two hands for operation users should ensure that:
    • both controls have to be operated together;
    • machines cannot operate with one control "jammed" open and the second allowing single-hand operation of a machine that was designed with the intention of two-hand operation;
    • it is not possible to start the splitting process inadvertently or to operate both manual controls simultaneously with one hand or arm or with other parts of the body;
    • the machine is only used by a single person as any second person eg who removes split wood, is not protected by the two-hand control.
  • Guards, including the length from the open end or aperture, should prevent people from having easy access to the dangerous parts, at the saw and splitter ram, from the normal operating position.

Delivery/assembly at site:

All parties should ensure that the machinery has been correctly assembled in accordance with the manufacturer's instructions, and all safety devices are functioning as intended.


HSE will be contacting relevant manufacturers to discuss safeguarding of these machines.

Relevant legal documents:


  • BS EN 574:1997 Safety of machinery - Two-hand control devices - Functional aspects - Principles for design
  • BS EN 609-1:1999 +A2:2009 Agricultural and forestry machinery - Safety of log splitters - Part 1: Wedge splitters
  • BS EN ISO 13857:2008 Safety of machinery - Safety distances to prevent hazard zones being reached by upper and lower limbs
  • Standards may be obtained from BSI Online

Further information:

Frances Hirst
Agriculture and Food Sector
900 Pavilion Drive
Northampton NN4 7RG
[email protected]

General note:

Please pass this information to a colleague who may have this product/equipment or operate this type of system/process.

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