Inhaling wood dust is associated with occupational asthma, which the HSE state is four times more common in carpenters and joiners than other workers in the UK. Also exposure to hardwood dusts is associated with the development of cancers, in particular cancers of the nose.
The HSE have announced that from April 2022 their inspectors will be targeting wood working business, in particular focussing on the control of wood dust.
The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations set limits for workplace exposure to wood dusts and employers must ensure that these limits are not exceeded. In many cases exposure to wood dust can be controlled by providing woodworking machines with dust extraction systems which capture and remove dust before it can spread.
Where dust extraction (also known as local exhaust ventilation) systems are used, these need to be designed and installed by competent persons to make sure they provide an effective control for the levels of dust produced and need to be maintained in effective working condition. It is a legal requirement that local exhaust ventilation systems are examined by a competent person at least every 14 months.
Dust extraction may not be suitable for every job and it may be necessary to provide respiratory protective equipment e.g. face masks for some particularly dusty jobs such as sanding. Where you need to use personal protection it is important that you chose the correct type, it is fitted correct and is maintained with any filters etc changed as needed.
The HSE advise that because wood dust causes asthma the effects must be picked up quickly and a programme of health surveillance may be required. For most woods this can be achieved by using regular health questionnaires and taking further action where an issue is identified, however a higher level of health surveillance may be required in some cases.
Further information and example health questionnaires can be found of the HSE’s website at: https://www.hse.gov.uk/woodworking/wooddust.htm
Please speak to your normal PIB Risk Management contact or get in touch using email@example.com if you have any questions or would like assistance with managing woodworking operations.