19 Feb 2023

All you need to know about wood dust exposure
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All you need to know about wood dust exposure

What is wood dust?

Wood dust is a byproduct of wood processing, which could involve sawing, sanding, cutting, shaping, or other operations. Wood dust particles are airborne, meaning that they are transported by air. With this in mind, workers could be exposed to wood dust when cleaning equipment and machinery, or during wood processing operations. If measures aren’t taken to reduce wood dust exposure, the health and wellbeing of workers could be put at risk, potentially leading to the development of serious, life-threatening conditions. 

When might someone be exposed to wood dust?

Certain industries may be more at risk of wood dust exposure. Amongst these are sander operators in the transportation equipment industry, press operators in the wood products industry, and those in carpentry, construction, or shipbuilding industries – to name a few. It’s imperative that employers abide by The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations 2002, which requires them to put necessary measures in place to reduce wood dust exposure. 

How much exposure to wood dust is dangerous?

According to government guidelines, the Workplace Exposure Limit (WEL) for hardwood dust is 3mg/m3 (based on an 8-hour time-weighted average). For softwood, the WEL is 5mg/m3 (based on an 8-hour time-weighted average). If operations are likely to produce a mixture of hardwood and softwood, the WEL for hardwood dust of 3mg/m3 applies to all wood dusts present in the mixture. In order for businesses to maintain a safe working environment, wood dust exposure must be below the applicable WEL. 

What are the health complications caused by wood dust

Inhaling wood dust into the lungs can lead to various, potentially life-threatening health conditions. These include breathing problems and lung diseases, such as occupational asthma and lung cancer, eye irritation caused by accidentally getting dust in the eyes, as well as skin irritation and dermatitis, which is caused by the skin coming into contact with wood dust. 

Not only this, the chemicals in the wood can be absorbed into the body through the skin, lungs, or digestive system. If the body absorbs these toxic chemicals, which is dependent on the type of wood concerned, an individual may suffer from headaches, weight loss, breathlessness, giddiness, cramps, and irregular heartbeat.

To find out more about the health problems caused by dust in the workplace, and how you can ensure your staff stay protected, head over to our previous article. 

How to control wood dust

In order to control wood dust exposure and protect the wellbeing of workers, the building’s design can be modified in a way that limits the spread. If current operations can’t be changed and there’s still a risk of wood dust exposure, an industrial dust extraction system can help to filter the air, enhancing the safety of a working environment. With clean, fresh air circulating the building, your workers will benefit massively – not only where their health is concerned, but their overall workplace satisfaction. 

As well as this, current wood processing operations should be reviewed regularly to see whether they can be modified. This could involve using water damping methods where possible, avoiding using blowers or fans – which can increase the spread of wood dust – or eliminating the need to cut completely through buying pre-cut wood materials. 

It’s also crucial that workers are supplied with the appropriate Respiratory Protection Equipment (RPE) and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) so that they are able to carry out tasks safely. After completing the task at hand, workers should be urged to wash their face and hands immediately after to further prevent the health risks caused by wood dust exposure. Employers must also monitor the amount of time that each worker is subjected to wood dust, considering whether operations can be adapted in a way that reduces exposure. 

To find out more about how Airmatic can help keep your workplace safe and free of air pollutants, get in touch with our team today. Regardless of the industry, we can recommend the best ventilation solution for your business – which will be designed and installed based on your personal requirements.

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