Industry sector: Consumer services

Furniture restorer: Legal matters

Antique furniture restoration uses some potentially harmful substances and procedures so care should always be taken to comply with health and safety and environmental legislation to make the workshop as safe an environment as possible for both you and any employees you have.

Some of the key areas where legislation is likely to affect your business are listed below. The list is not intended to be exhaustive.

The environment

Some of the chemicals you might use - and waste products and dust that you may produce - are potentially harmful to the environment if not handled and disposed of properly. Environmental protection legislation covers a wide range of issues, from waste and effluent disposal to safe storage of potentially harmful substances and pollution prevention. Be sure that all of your waste is disposed of properly by a licensed waste disposal contractor.

You may also be affected by regulations referred to as REACH - this stands for the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals. It aims to protect human health and the environment by controlling chemical substances. Check with your supplier that the chemicals you use have been correctly pre-registered or registered.

More information on many different aspects of environmental protection and best practice is available from the website.

Manual handling

You and your employees may regularly handle heavy, bulky items which are difficult to grasp and which may have sharp surfaces which can cut or scratch someone. You should be aware that you must reduce the risks of injury to your employees as far as possible. You can download Manual Handling at Work from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) website.

Storage, use and disposal of potentially hazardous substances

Specific regulations cover the use, storage and sale of substances such as aniline dyes or turpentine. Under the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations employers must assess the risk of using and storing potentially harmful products and put in place measures to reduce the risks. You will also have a duty to ensure that waste chemicals are disposed of safely - for example by using an authorised waste carrier. Contact your local authority environmental health department for guidance.

Note that special regulations permit the use of paint stripping products that contain dichloromethane (DCM) by suitably trained and assessed professionals such as conservators. DCM paint strippers can not be supplied to non-professional users.

HSE produces a helpful information sheet, Health Risks During Furniture Stripping Using Dichloromethane, which is available to download from the HSE website.

Personal protective equipment

People working in furniture restoration may be exposed to potentially harmful substances, for example wood dust or paint stripper, and you should consider what protective clothing you should provide to minimise the risks to health. You should make sure that your employees use the protective clothing correctly and you should arrange for it to be laundered on a regular basis. Don't overlook the need to wear facemasks when undertaking some jobs. You can download Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) at Work from the HSE website for more information. Consider installing dust and/or fume extraction units if necessary.

Fire safety

All employers with business premises must comply with fire safety regulations. To comply with the regulations you will need to carry out a fire risk assessment - paying particular attention to inflammable materials like oils and lacquers - and put in place fire precaution measures. These could include fire alarm systems and extinguishers as well as clearly signed escape routes. You're responsible for the safety of your staff and your customers. The Department for Communities and Local Government has produced several helpful guides to the regulations - you can download them from the website. Information about fire regulations in Northern Ireland is available on the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service website.

Use of equipment and tools

The Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations cover the use and maintenance of hand and power tools so that they are used in conditions that are as safe as possible.

Health and safety policy statement

Health and safety legislation covers all aspects of health and safety in the workshop and employers with five or more employees must prepare a written health and safety policy statement. You should contact your local authority health and safety section for advice and guidance. More information and guidance on all aspects of health and safety are available on the HSE and Health and Safety Executive Northern Ireland (HSENI) websites.


If you decide to sell antiques and other items direct to members of the public you should be aware that there is a wide range of legislation that applies to retail outlets and that protects the interests of the consumer. For example, goods and services must not be misleadingly described and the retail price of goods must be clearly displayed.

Dealing in antiques

The Dealing in Cultural Objects (Offences) Act makes it illegal to knowingly deal in any object that might be 'tainted' - that is to say obtained in an illegal manner. Dealers are expected to take appropriate steps to make sure that any object they purchase is not tainted in this way. Of course, it goes without saying that normal criminal law applies when it comes to receiving and selling stolen goods, passing items off fraudulently and so on.

Employment legislation

Anyone employing staff must comply with employment legislation. Important pieces of legislation that you must be aware of include:

  • The Employment Rights Act
  • The National Minimum Wage Act
  • The Working Time Regulations

The employing people section of the website includes information and guidance on all aspects of employment legislation. Information for businesses in Northern Ireland is available on the NI Business Info website.

Equality and discrimination law

You must not discriminate against anyone because of their age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion, sex or sexual orientation. This applies to every aspect of your business operations, from taking people on to dismissing them. You may need to make reasonable adjustments to your premises and working arrangements so that you don't unfairly discriminate against disabled people.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission and Equality Commission for Northern Ireland websites contain further information on your legal duties.