KANBrief 2/12

Greater safety during the sawing and splitting of firewood

Accidents occur on machines used for the cutting of firewood. In order to reduce the accident rate even further, the standards governing these machines must also be improved. At several meetings held between 2009 and 2011 and moderated by the KAN Secretariat, experts discussed how machine operators and any other persons assisting them could be prevented from reaching into the sawing or splitting area.

Accidents, in some cases dramatic and resulting in particularly severe injuries, such as amputations, occur on log splitters and firewood sawing machines. The primary cause is inadequate guarding of the splitting or sawing areas. The safety concept and the technical requirements governing such machines in the current European standards EN 609-1 (EN 609-1:1999+A2:2009: Agricultural and forestry machinery – Safety of log splitters – Part 1: Wedge splitters) and EN 1870-6 ​​​​(EN 1870-6:2002+A1:2009: Safety of woodworking machines – Circular sawing machines – Part 6: Circular sawing machines for firewood and dual purpose circular sawing machines for firewood/circular saw benches, with manual loading and/ or unloadin) fall short of the needs and do not adequately support the essential health and safety requirements of the 2006/42/EC Machinery Directive. Annex ZB of EN 601-1 goes so far as to draw explicit attention to serious deficits. KAN and the German social insurance institutions for the agricultural sector (LSV) have therefore undertaken to formulate concrete proposals for improvements by which revision of these standards can be launched and a higher level of safety set out in the future which is consistent with the Machinery Directive.

Approaches taken by the group of experts

A considerable proportion of accidents occurring during the cutting of firewood are due to the fact that the machines are used not by a single person, but by several people at the same time. It is essential that in the future, the safety concepts of EN 609-1 and EN 1870-6 give full consideration to use simultaneously in this way by several people, which is common practice. In addition, the standards must ensure that the pieces of wood to be cut are adequately secured by the design of the machine itself. If this is not ensured, the workers have additional motivation to reach into the sawing or splitting area whilst the machine is in operation before and during the cutting process, in order to assure the necessary stability themselves. Ergonomic aspects should also be given much more serious consideration in future on all machine types.

A number of further means by which accidents may be prevented must also be considered. On log splitters, two-hand control devices for example should not lend themselves easily to manipulation, as they otherwise present a serious hazard to the machine operator. Operators must be able to free jammed pieces of wood easily, and dangerous movements of the splitting mechanism must be prevented as soon as the pieces of wood are fed in. Very light firewood sawing machines in particular must be sufficiently stable, since they present a considerable hazard should they tip over whilst the saw blade is running. Where dual-purpose sawing machines can be converted from firewood cutters to simple circular saw benches, safety must be assured at all times, despite the fact that completely separate safety concepts are employed for each of the two operating modes.

The crucial proposals however concern reaching into the sawing or splitting area, which should ideally be prevented by means of guards or protective devices. The involvement of a number of manufacturers has enabled some of the proposals and aims discussed to be tested on prototypes. This in turn has provided the working group with practical, illustrative material for risk assessment, and feedback on feasibility. One conclusion from this was that the requirements in EN 609-1 should be formulated not in general terms, but with respect to the four essential machine types, namely horizontal vs. vertical and short vs. long log splitters. Some of the particularly innovative prototypes which were assessed took a completely new approach and showed that very high levels of safety could be attained as a result. It would be desirable for these concepts to be developed through to the production stage in order for them ultimately to be reflected in standards as the state of the art.

Standardization work has started

The CEN TCs have only just begun discussing revision of the standards. On these committees, a member of staff of the LSV‘s umbrella association is submitting the results agreed by the KAN working group on behalf of Germany. Revision of the standard could however take some time, particularly in the case of the log splitters.

Corrado Mattiuzzo