The inhalation of wood dust can cause serious health problems, which vary depending on the type of wood being worked on.
Softwood dust can cause asthma and hardwood dust can cause cancer, particularly of the nose. The greatest risk is from fine dust. This can enter the lungs and cause serious damage to them. It’s important to clean surfaces of fine dust regularly.
The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations 2002 requires you to protect your workers from the hazards of wood dust.
Checklist for Controlling Dust in your Workplace:
- Provision of dust extraction (also known as local exhaust ventilation or LEV) at woodworking machines to capture and remove dust effectively.
- 14-monthly LEV examination by a competent person (records kept). This is a legal requirement.
- Maintenance of equipment in accordance with manufacturer’s guidance.
- Provision of a suitable industrial vacuum cleaner (minimum Class M standard).
- Dry sweeping is prohibited.
- Provision of Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE) as an additional control measure against dust. These may be provided for particularly dust tasks, such as sanding. Make sure the RPE is suitable for the job and type of wood dust. It should also be CE marked.
NB: In order to work effectively, tight-fitting face masks need to make a good seal with the face. Users should be ‘face-fitted’ by a competent person to make sure the mask fits properly. It should also be ensured that the worker remains clean-shaven, as any stubble will prevent a good seal.
- Provision of disposable FFP2 or FFP3 dust masks for use when changing bags or housekeeping.
- Provision of clean welfare facilities for washing hands and changing.
- Education of workers in the risks from wood dust and the control measures required, how to use the extraction properly and how to control the escape and spread of dust.
- Education of workers in usage, storage and when to change RPE / dust masks.
- Implementation of health surveillance at the start of employment and then annually thereafter.
NB: For most woods, low-level health surveillance in the form of a questionnaire will do. A higher level of health surveillance, including lung function testing, is needed for exposures to certain which are known asthmagens.