From April 2022, HSE Inspectors will be visiting selected premises, including woodworking businesses, their aim being to ensure that duty holders know the risks associated with woodworking, including wood dust, and have effective controls in place to keep workers safe and adequately protected with respect to their respiratory health.
Understand The Risks
The law requires that exposure to respiratory sensitisers and carcinogens must be adequately controlled - wood dust falls within this classification therefore all reasonable efforts must be made to reduce exposure to this material.
Persons who work with woodworking equipment (this includes Carpenters, Joiners as well as Caretaking staff) are four times more likely to get asthma and other lung diseases due to working closely with wood dust on a very regular basis.
Prolonged exposure to hardwood dust can also cause nasal cancer, which is why it’s very important to be aware of the workplace exposure limits and controls that should be in place to protect workers and ensure regulatory compliance.
Current workplace exposure limits for hardwood and softwood dust
The Workplace Exposure Limit (WEL) for hardwood dust is 3mg/m3 .
The Workplace Exposure Limit (WEL) for softwood dust is 5mg/m3.
For mixtures of hardwood and softwood dusts the WEL for hardwood dust of 3mg/m3 applies to all wood dusts present in that mixture.
These limits are created based on the amount of dust in the air, averaged over a typical eight-hour working day.
The law requires employers to reduce exposure to wood dust to as low as reasonably practicable (ALARP), regardless of the measured exposure.
Both hard and soft wood dusts can act as respiratory sensitisers.
A respiratory sensitiser is a substance which, when it is breathed in, can lead to occupational asthma (an allergic reaction in the lungs). Once a person has developed asthma (or has been 'sensitised'), any further exposure to the substance can produce the same reaction.
Some hardwood dusts have also been identified as carcinogenic (cancer causing).
Most standard woodworking tasks will generate high levels of dusts, so extraction and personal protective equipment will normally be required to stop people breathing it in.
Reducing exposure to an adequate level always involves a mixture of equipment and ways of working:
Reduce the amount of dust generated
Better planning and preparation can reduce the need to process wood (for example buy in pre-cut wood; or use sharper blades and tooling as blunt tools release more dust into the atmosphere).
Remove dust from the workplace
- Provide dust extraction (LEV) at fixed woodworking machines to capture and remove dust before it can spread.
- Ensure that extraction systems are correctly designed and installed for good control of wood dust.
- Use on-tool extraction with powered hand-held tools (e.g. sanders) for tools known to generate dust.
- Ensure propre maintenance of all tools and extraction systems (employers are responsible for ensuring that extraction systems are properly maintained and working correctly and are examined by a competent person at least every 14 months).
Ensure your workers understand
Workers need to be informed about the hazards of wood dust, how they can be exposed to it and the importance of maintaining adequate control measures.
Carry out regular checks and maintenance
- Ensure that dust extraction systems remain effective through daily, weekly, and monthly checks. Repair and replace anything in your extraction system that is damaged or worn out.
- Do not allow wood dust to accumulate on surfaces - implement a high standard of regular cleaning and housekeeping.
- Never sweep up or use compressed air lines as this will disturb the dust and allow it to become inhaled.
- Always clean up using a suitable industrial vacuum cleaner which is fitted with a HEPA filtration system.
Carry out health surveillance
This is required for those workers frequently exposed to wood dust, particularly, any workers experiencing a persistent cough or skin problems.
Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE)
RPE should also be worn - dust extraction alone is insufficient to control the risk and employers should provide adequate and suitable RPE as well as ensuring that it is well maintained and used correctly.
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