When using a router table, apart from setting up your router table correctly, you should take some general precautions to protect your vision, hearing and respiratory system. These include the use of safety glasses, ear protection, dust masks, and respirators.
Router Table Safety Tips
A spinning router bit throw chips and fine particles into the air, so eye protection during router work is an absolute must. Never turn on a router if you aren’t wearing safety glasses. While simple glasses with shatterproof lenses are adequate, true safety glasses with side shields are far better. Some workers may appreciate the additional protection of a face shield.
A router is a noisy tool, generating well above 100 decibels during typical jobs. Exposure to this level of noise will do permanent damage to your hearing. Therefore I consider hearing protection to be essential. Your options include earplugs, hearing bands, and ear muffs, what you choose depends largely on your needs and your budget.
Earplugs and inserts
The cheapest type of ear protection is a set of earplugs. These soft rubber plugs are simply inserted in the ears. Rubber plugs are sold in sizes and must be matched to ear size to be effective. They can be washed in warm water when they get dirty and are more apt to be lost than wear out.
Solid plugs have been largely replaced today by soft sponge-rubber ear inserts. These are small cylinders of soft rubber with a chewing gum like quality, you simply roll the insert between your fingers until it forms a cone, then place it in the ear canal where it expands to close out the sound. Ear inserts are good for only a few uses but are very cheap and easy to carry. I keep several pairs in my toolbox for emergencies. The drawback to soft rubber inserts is that they are not easy to put in and take out of your ears and that they can be somewhat uncomfortable when worn for long periods. Since I frequently have to stop working, I find them impractical.
A hearing band is just a set of earplugs or ear inserts joined by a plastic bow. The bow may be placed above or behind the head but works equally well under the chine. Whichever is most comfortable. When not in use it snaps around your neck out of the way. Bands are cheap and are carried easily in a toolbox. Since they can be worn around the neck with comfort you need never be without them hence are more likely to use them.
Earmuffs are plastic cups filled with foam rubber. A spring band goes over the head and holds them tight against the side of the head, where they cover both ears. They block effectively and are quick to put on and take off. The only drawback to ear muffs is that they are somewhat uncomfortable to wear around the neck when not in use.
Dust masks and respirators
When using a router table, the most thing you can do for safety is to protect yourself from dust. Wood dust can be quite toxic and might be carcinogen. Dust from tropical woods is especially troublesome. Equipping your router table with a vacuum dust pickup is well worth the effort. But no matter how good your system is, some dust will get into the air, so some kind of dust mask is essential. The simplest and cheapest is a paper dust mask. Better but more costly is a respirator, which works like a military gas mask. Respirators offer good dust protection, but are hot and tiring to wear because you are doing the air pumping with your lungs. They are also a problem for people with beards.
Powered air respirators provide the ultimate protection for your lungs. These air helmets offer safety of a full face shield and hard hat with excellent protection. They have a motor that pumps filtered air into the helmet, so you don’t have to make an effort to breathe. The incoming air creates a prositive air pressure inside the shield, which excludes dust and prevents fogging. Some air helmets will filter only dust while others can also filter organic vapors from finishing products. Earmuffs can be added to most air helmets. Air helmets are quite expensive but if you do much woodworking they are well worth the price.