Health and safety in sawmilling

For many years, the sawmill industry had a poor safety record – with very high rates of fatal and major accidents. Accident investigations showed that the highest risk activities were:

  • Band saw blade or pulley cleaning procedures
  • Round and sawn timber stacking
  • Guarding of power operated cross-cut saws
  • Management of site transport activities
  • Lock-out procedures for interrupting mechanised production processes, for example when freeing jammed timber

Two other important problem areas were high noise levels and poor or non-existent welfare facilities.

Thankfully, things are now much improved, due to the combined efforts of industry, HSE and plant & equipment suppliers. However, sawmilling remains a high risk business with a major injury rate that is over two and a half times that of general manufacturing. Machinery accidents remain one of the major causes of injury, with lock-out procedures for interrupting mechanised production processes still being a problem area. There is also an average of one fatality every year.

This is why HSE, with the help of the sawmill industry, has revised and thoroughly updated our old sawmill guidance, HSG 172 (Health and safety in sawmilling). We have also produced a case study following a Fatal fall whilst loading wood chips at a sawmill.

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Updated 2021-07-06