Wood dust becomes a potential health issue when wood particles produced during activities such as sanding and cutting become airborne and therefore is covered under COSHH (Control of Substances Hazardous to Heath Regulations 2002). If inhaled, these particles can cause serious health problems including asthma, allergic respiratory symptoms, mucosal and non-allergic respiratory symptoms and even cancer.
Workplace Exposure Limits (WEL) for both hardwood and softwood dusts is currently 5mg/m3. This is based upon the amount of dust in the air averaged over an 8-hour shift. In all instances, exposure to these harmful dusts must be reduced to as low as reasonably practicable.
The HSE are currently in the process of lowering this to 3mg/m3 in 2020 and then to 2mg/m3 by 2023
Managing wood dusts
Extraction is the most effective way of reducing the exposure to harmful wood dusts. Local exhaust ventilation (LEV) can be used on wood working machines to capture dusts before it can be spread. Extraction systems must be suitable and sufficient for the type and number of machines it is being used for.
Employees should be educated on the risks associated with wood dusts and preventative measures to be taken.
Respiratory Protective equipment should be used in certain situations as identified in the Risk Assessment specific for the task. Where it is required, the correct type of RPE should be provided by the employer. The user should have been ‘facefitted’ to ensure it is compatible with the wearer.
Health surveillance is a suitable way to monitor the exposure of wood dust on an individual. This way any detrimental effects can be identified early. Different situations will require different levels of health surveillance, from health questionnaires to lung function testing.