Find Better Ways to Safeguard Health from Wood Dust
Updated: Feb 24
Wood is a versatile material that is used in many applications in construction and manufacturing and can be found in every home in the land in some way shape or form. There are three main types of wood that can be found in industry:
Softwood - Which comes from conifer trees (any trees which have needles & produce cones) such as Pine, Cedar, Fir, Spruce and Redwood.
Hardwood - Which comes deciduous trees (any trees which do not produce needles or cones) such as Oak, Maple, Chery, Mahogany and Walnut.
Engineered Wood - These are generally boards made with wood that is manipulated to have certain qualities or features. Examples are Plywood, Medium Density Fibre Board (MDF) and Composite board.
Each have their different applications but what is common across all three is that when they are cut, sanded or drilled they produce wood dust. Wood itself isn't toxic in its whole form but as soon as you start to cut it to size or shape it to its desired form then the wood dust produced is harmful to health. This is because the dust is inhalable, allowing it to be drawn into the respiratory tract where damage can be done. In fact, there are legal limits prescribed in the UK in terms of exposure to wood dust that must not be exceeded in a workplace - these are known as workplace exposure limits (WELs)
There are some differences between the wood types in terms of the health effects they cause:
Softwood - Is an asthma gene which is known to cause occupational asthma.
Hardwood - This is also an asthma gene but it is also a carcinogen that can cause cancer of the nasopharynx (part of the throat connecting the back of the nose to the back of the mouth).
Engineered Wood - This can be made up of both soft and hard wood so the composition of the piece would depend on what potential health affects you may see. However, there is a potential added risk from dust produced from engineered wood as it is often treated with chemicals that may cause other health effects. For example, MDF Board is often found with formaldehyde which is another carcinogen.
For the purpose of this blog, we are going to concentrate on soft and hardwood dust. As you can see, what first may appear to be a benign dust actually carries some serious health consequences when inhaled.
The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) regulations state that:
Every employer shall ensure that the exposure of his employees to substances hazardous to health is either prevented or, where this is not reasonably practicable, adequately controlled.
This is the basis of the regulations though they contain a lot more detail within them such as risk assessment requirements, use of control measures, and so on. But let's look specifically at what "adequately controlled" means. In a nutshell, it means that control can only be deemed adequate when:
The principles of good practice have been applied;
Any Workplace Exposure Limit (WEL) is not exceeded; and
Exposure is reduced to the lowest level reasonably practicable
In terms of controlling wood dust or any hazardous dust for that matter, there are a number of control measures that must be considered and (where appropriate) put in place to either prevent exposure or ensure it is adequately controlled.
Prevention of exposure is preferred as it removes all risk to health, however, in practice this is often not possible given the type of work being undertaken or because it is cost-prohibitive resulting in the requirement to adequately control using other means.
The gold standard for controlling dust is the use of Local Exhaust Ventilation (LEV) which captures the dust at source' preventing it from entering the atmosphere where it can be inhaled. Having a well-designed LEV system that is maintained in accordance with the manufacturers guidelines and thoroughly examined and tested within the legal interval of at least every 14 months can provide a good degree of control. Training should also be provided to those using the system.
But if you are responsible for health and safety in a business where wood dust is produced, how do you know that you are achieving adequate control?
As previously stated, there are workplace exposure limits for wood dust that must not be exceeded. These are Personal Exposure limits for an 8-hour working day meaning that they refer to an individual's exposure over their shift. For the UK, these can be found in EH40/2005 Workplace exposure limits which contains limits for both hardwood and softwood.
At Blue Turtle Ltd we can help you meet your legal obligations and protect your workforce from occupational ill health. Our trained and competent occupational Hygienists can carry out Personal Exposure Monitoring using recognised and validated methods to sample the air, and use laboratories with approved methods to analyse the dust providing you with an exposure level directly comparable to the legal limits in EH40.
Furthermore, we can also carry out a Thorough Examination and Test of your LEV systems to ensure that it is working as per its design and controlling the dust to an adequate level. We can also provide advice on the principles of good practice and how these can be applied in your workplace.
What happens if you're not adequately controlling the exposure and there is still a residual risk to health?
Again, this is where Blue Turtle can help. Our experienced consultants are able to provide practical advice on how to achieve adequate control through process changes, improvements or adopting/changing work practices to reduce the risk as low as reasonably practicable.
Whatever your Occupational Hygiene needs are, Blue Turtle Ltd is here to help your business protect your workforce and help you meet your legal obligations.
Give us a call today to discuss your needs or if you prefer complete the online form with details of the areas you are looking for help with.
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