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WOOD Dust, do you have adequate controls in place to protect your staff & comply with HSE guidance?

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Carpenters and joiners are four times more likely to get asthma and other lung diseases due to working closely with wood dust on a very regular basis.

Other conditions can also develop particularly from hardwood dust such as Cancer - particularly of the nose which is why it’s very important to be aware of the workplace exposure limits and controls that should be in place to protect your staff and meet regulatory compliance. 

The Workplace Exposure Limit (WEL) for hardwood dust is 3mg/m3 . The 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. However, you must reduce exposure to wood dust to as low as reasonably practicable regardless of the measured exposure.

Both hard and soft wood dusts act as respiratory sensitisers. A respiratory sensitiser is a substance which, when it is breathed in, can lead to occupational asthma, which is 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.

In addition to the aforementioned hardwood dust has been recently classified as a carcinogen.

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 by; Better planning and preparation to reduce the need to process wood; Buying in wood that is pre-cut; or using sharper blades and tooling - blunt tools release more dust into the air.

Remove dust from your workplace by; Providing dust extraction (LEV) at fixed woodworking machines to capture and remove dust before it can spread; Ensuring extraction systems are correctly designed and installed for good control of wood dust; Using on-tool extraction with powered hand-held tools that generate dust eg sanders. It will be the responsibility of the employer to keep the extraction system properly maintained and working correctly (it is a legal requirement to have it examined by a competent person at least every 14 months).

Ensure your workers understand; The hazards of wood dust, how they can be exposed to it and the importance of control measures

Carry out health surveillance for all workers exposed to wood dust to detect the early signs of asthma and dermatitis

Carry out regular checks and maintenance; Ensure 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.

Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE) should also be worn, for many woodworking tasks dust extraction alone is insufficient to control the risk and you should; provide adequate and suitable RPE; ensure it is used correctly.

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