Guarding woodworking bandsaws

Employees using bandsaws are at risk of serious injury. This guidance may help employers eliminate or reduce and control risks to employees using woodworking bandsaws.

The problem

Bandsaws that are not guarded, poorly guarded or not well maintained are a risk to employees. Risks include serious injuries such as severe cuts and amputations. Bandsaws can also put employees at risk from airborne contaminants.

The risks

Employees' hands and fingers can come into contact with the blade of unguarded bandsaws. Lack of guarding also allows clothing to become entangled in the exposed bandsaw wheels.

If a blade is dull or has teeth missing, the material being cut can judder or kick back.

These risks can result in serious injuries, including amputations and severe cuts.

Bandsaws can also create airborne contaminants such as vapours, gases and especially dust.

Airborne contaminants are a major hazard in the timber industry. They present exposure hazards from, for example, inhalation and absorption. Long-term exposure to wood dust may lead to health issues such as asthma, bronchitis, throat problems and dermatitis.

Airborne contaminants can also put employees at risk from hazards such as explosion and fire.

Illustration of a woodworking band saw without any guards.

Image: An unguarded bandsaw puts employees at high risk of injury from the blade and rotating parts.

Solutions

The following controls may help employers eliminate or reduce and control the risk of injuries to employees using bandsaws.

Consultation

Employers must identify risks and provide risk controls in consultation with employees and any health and safety representatives (HSRs). Consultation should include discussions about how employees will operate bandsaws, making sure that risk controls do not create new hazards. WorkSafe has guidance on consultation, including consultation with HSRs.

Training and supervision

Employers have a duty to provide information, instruction, training or supervision to employees so they can do their work in a way that is safe and without risks to health. Employers should ensure each employee who uses the bandsaw understands and is able to demonstrate safe operation of the bandsaw. No employee should operate the bandsaw unless properly trained and supervised.

Employers should review training regularly and when introducing new equipment. They should also keep training records as proof they have provided training.

Guards

Bandsaws must be guarded. Guarding must prevent access to the bandsaw blade but still allow the employee to see the material being cut.

If practicable, employees should use a push stick to guide the work piece through the cutting process. A push stick allows employees to keep fingers and hands clear of the blade.

The following guards are the most effective to reduce or eliminate the risk of injury:

Interlocked guards

The band wheel guards should be interlocked. The interlock should immediately cut power to the machine if the guards are removed or opened while the bandsaw is operating.

There will be run-down time for the band wheels to stop turning. Employees should not access the bandsaw wheels or blade until the bandsaw has come to a complete stop.

An interlock linked to an automatic brake which eliminates or reduces run-down time significantly can further control this risk.

Fitted guards

A height-adjustable guard is installed over the exposed section of the bandsaw blade. The guard should be just above the height of the material the blade is cutting. The guard should be adjustable to allow for cutting materials of varying thickness.

Illustration of a woodworking band saw noting guards and other safety devices including: Operating controls, isolator switch, interlocked guard enclosing band wheels, height adjustable guard, fence, brake and emergency stop switch.

Image: A guarded bandsaw encloses the wheels and prevents access to the blade.

Blades

Employers should instruct and train employees to use the bandsaw brake pedal to stop the cutting blade before adjusting the blade or before cutting new material.

Employers should also ensure bandsaw blades are well maintained and kept sharp. Vibration-free equipment cuts better and faster and improves blade life. Wear patterns on the blade can indicate:

  • the band wheels need adjustment
  • the blade guide is misaligned
  • the guide is worn and needs to be replaced

Dust extraction

Bandsaws should be fitted with effective dust extraction to control risks from airborne contaminants such as dust, vapours and gases.

Maintenance

Regular maintenance should take place in accordance with manufacturer specifications. Inspections and maintenance should be documented, including the testing of interlocked guarding by a competent person such as an electrician. A history of maintenance records should be kept while the machinery is in use.

Legal duties

As an employer, you have an obligation under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (OHS Act) to provide and maintain a working environment that is safe and without risks to health. This obligation requires you to eliminate risks to health and safety, so far as reasonably practicable. If it is not reasonably practicable to eliminate the risks, you must reduce the risks, so far as reasonably practicable.

Employers must, so far as reasonably practicable, identify all hazards associated with plant such as bandsaws and eliminate any risk. If it is not reasonably practicable to eliminate the risk, employers must reduce the risk as far as reasonably practicable.

An employer's duty also includes a responsibility to provide information, instruction, training or supervision, so far as reasonably practicable, so employees can do their work safely. This includes when using plant such as bandsaws.

WorkSafe's guidance Plant and your legal duties, Plant health and safety guide and the Plant compliance code have more information about employers' duties.

The Occupational Health and Safety Regulations 2017 (OHS Regulations) build on the OHS Act. The OHS Regulations set out the minimum standards on how to achieve the OHS Act's duties and obligations. Part 3.5 of the OHS Regulations requires duty holders to fulfil certain legal obligations in relation to plant and systems of work associated with plant. These obligations include identifying and controlling risks associated with plant such as bandsaws.