In 2020, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) updated the EH40 Workplace Exposure Limits (WELs) (commonly also known as occupational exposure limits) guidance, which makes us wonder, how much exposure to wood dust is dangerous? To understand this question in more detail, we also need to understand what wood dust is, how it’s created and what are the health risks. Learn more about the guidance and our range of Wood Dust Extraction solutions.
How Much Exposure to Wood Dust is Dangerous?
HSE approved new and revised some existing WELs, which came into place on 17th January 2020. In the can be summarised as follows. There were new and revised entries for hardwood dust (including mixed dust).
In the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations 2002, it states that: “A dust of any kind, except dust which is a substance at a concentration in air equal to or greater than either 10 mg/m3, as a time-weighted average over an 8-hour period, of inhalable dust; or 4 mg/m3, as a time-weighted average over an 8-hour period, of respirable dust.
This means that any dust will be subject to control measures being enforced under the COSHH regulations if people are exposed to dust above these levels.
The long-term exposure limit (8-hr TWA reference period) for hardwood dust was reduced to 3mg.m-3.
What is Wood Dust and How Is It Created?
Wood dust is created when machines or tools are used to cut or shape wood. High amounts of wood dust are produced in sawmills, and in the furniture-making, cabinet-making, and carpentry industries.
In the HSE’s EH40 WELs guidance, it states that: “Wood dust is a general term covering a wide variety of airborne wood dusts. Timbers have been divided into two different groups, namely hardwoods and softwoods. Hardwoods are timbers from deciduous trees, including trees from both temperate and tropical zones such as beech, ash, oak, mahogany and teak. Softwoods are mainly from coniferous trees such as Scots pine, yew and cedar.
“Dust is generated by the machining and working of wood and wood-containing materials such as chipboard and fibreboard. Operations such as sawing, turning and routing produce relatively coarse dust, while sanding and assembly operations generate fine dust.”
According to the HSE’s WD0 – COSHH Essentials for Woodworkers – Advice For Manager’s guidance, “Wood dust is made up of tiny particles of wood produced during processing. Wood dust can contain bacteria, fungal and moss spores. The amount and type of wood dust generated will depend on the wood being cut and the machine being used.”
The HSE has assembled a series of guidance documents, titled the WD range in their COSHH Essential Guidance to help employers provide safe working conditions for their workers.
What are the Health Risks of Wood Dust?
In the HSE’s MDHS14-4 – General Methods for Sampling and Gravimetric Analysis of Respirable, Thoracic and Inhalable Aerosols guidance it defines the different types of dust and how they can penetrate the human body.
- Inhalable fraction – this approximates the fraction of airborne material that enters the nose and mouth during breathing and is therefore available for deposition anywhere in the respiratory tract.
- Thoracic fraction – this is the fraction of inhaled airborne material penetrating beyond the larynx.
- Respirable fraction – this is the inhaled airborne material that penetrates to the lower gas exchange region of the lung.
Workers who use wood processing machinery (or tools) to cut or shape wood are exposed to wood dust as part of their occupation. Occupations with high exposure to wood dust include sander operators in the transportation equipment industry, press operators in the wood products industry, lathe operators in the furniture industry, and sander operators in the wood cabinet industry.
According to the World Health Organisation’s International Agency For Research on Cancer’s (IARC) publication, IARC Monographs On The Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risk to Humans (Volume 62) Wood Dust and Formaldyde (1995), it was found that: “There is sufficient evidence in humans for the carcinogenity of wood dust.”
What Does the HSE Recommend?
Under the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations 2002, employers should ensure that the exposure to substances hazardous to health is either prevented or, where this is not reasonably practicable, adequately controlled. Where it is not reasonably practicable to prevent exposure to a substance hazardous to health, the employer shall comply with his duty of control under paragraph 7.
In addition, control measures such as LEV systems should be subject to LEV testing once in a 14 month period, under regulation 9. This is to ensure that extraction systems are performing to their benchmark performance levels and control exposure to hazardous substances. Our workshop dust extraction page provides more information on why extraction is essential for woodwork businesses.
How Can Wood Dust Be Controlled?
HSE’s HSG 258: Controlling Airborne Contaminants at Work – A Guide to Local Exhaust Ventilation (LEV) explains how local exhaust ventilation (LEV) can help employers effectively control wood dust exposure from in the workplace before employees breathe them in. We work strictly in adherence to the guidance and offer free site assessments to help your business comply with the legislation.
Request a FREE LEV Site Assessment
We’ll call to arrange a convenient time and date to visit your site. We’ll analyse your working processes, assess the substances used and the contaminants generated. We’ll work out how best to control the dust and fume in a way that’s in line with your COSHH risk assessment. Next, we’ll design you a comprehensive LEV system that adheres to HSG258 guidance and send this you to via email.
We’ll do all this to ensure we fully understand your dust and fume extraction requirements and help you to provide a pollution-free workplace!
This is an amazing service we do for thousands of businesses throughout the UK and Ireland every year. We work with such a wide variety of industries, from manufacturing, industrial, woodworking, pharmaceutical and automotive workshops to schools, colleges and military establishments.
Request your FREE, no-obligation LEV site assessment today!
Why Choose Auto Extract Systems?
Auto Extract Systems is the UK’s leading LEV company. Over the last 20 years, we’ve helped thousands of businesses create pollution-free workplaces, and avoid a costly fee for intervention fines.
We are experts in all things LEV, we can help your business become COSHH (Control of Substances Hazardous to Health) Regulation 2002 compliant with a tailored LEV solution. We provide comprehensive design, installation, maintenance and certification services across a range of industry sectors. Find out more about us here.