Oak Furniture land fined £400,000 for safety breaches at warehouse

March 31, 2020

More and more cases are hitting the high courts and the mainstream media, where employees are claiming ill health or even terminal illness due to exposure to harmful substances at work. The council launched an investigation after a member of staff complained. The furniture firm, which is based in South Marston, pleaded guilty last summer to six breaches of health and safety regulations and failing to ensure the health, safety and welfare of its employees.

The Article

Officers discovered that the company was preparing room divider sheets – typically used to partition a large room – which was not a registered activity at the warehouse. Evidence pointed to the sheets being prepared in a highly explosive environment – a result of the glues being used and a lack of ventilation in the building. Workers were provided with damaged or faulty face masks and conditions were so bad council officers served an immediate Prohibition Notice. Employees were exposed to cancer-causing MDF wood dust.

Coun Cathy Martyn, the council’s cabinet member for housing and public safety, said: “This prosecution and subsequent penalty highlights the importance of taking steps to protect the health and safety of employees and members of the public. The uncontrolled work activities being carried out at the Cheney Manor site posed a very real risk of explosion, fire and potential long-term health conditions resulting from exposure to carcinogenic MDF dust and harmful chemicals.”

Wood Dust

Wood dust can cause a range of serious health problems to people exposed to it on a daily basis. Firstly, it can cause asthma, which carpenters and joiners are four times more likely to get compared to any other UK workers. Hardwood dust, can cause cancer, particularly of the nose. It is most notably the settled dust containing fine particles that are most likely to damage the lungs. It can also cause certain skin disorders.

Wood dust is also flammable and can cause a fire or explosion. In the article it states “Evidence pointed to the sheets being prepared in a highly explosive environment – a result of the glues being used and a lack of ventilation in the building.” Every year, there are occurrences of premises that are severely damaged or destroyed by wood dust fires that usually start in dust extraction equipment.  It is crucial that a wood dust extraction system uses ATEX rated components and the explosion vents are “vented to a safe place” typically the outside.  Another element that is important to ensure is built in to the extraction system is an explosion non-return damper which prevents an explosion travelling back in to the factory via the ducting.  These elements are often missed out in systems in an effort to save on initial costs and can often explain why quotations can vary greatly.

What are the Exposure Limits of Wood Dust in the Workplace?

The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations 2002 require that you protect workers from the hazards of wood dust due to the health dangers. Any workplace exposure limit (WEL) must not be exceeded.

LEV Systems for Controlling Wood Dust

Installing a LEV system doesn’t automatically mean your workers are protected. In many cases an inadequate or insufficient LEV is installed and the process of proper design and testing is missed, leaving workers still exposed. At Vent-Tech we are highly experienced in assessing, designing, installing and testing systems to keep companies compliant and their workers safe.

A fixed LEV that will effectively control the dust at source as it is produced is a good place to start. But with most processes, the fine wood dust becomes suspended in air and capturing the dust is then all about controlling the movement of this dusty air. This can be significantly more difficult as the high-speed rotating blades and cutters of woodworking machines act like fans and generate strong air movements.

The job of the LEV system is to contain this air movement and with it the dust. Many LEV designs fail to do this because the hood or ducting design is wrong. To get your LEV system right you need to consult with an experienced company who understand:

  • The particular requirements of LEV systems used in woodworking.
  • The basic design principles.
  • Flexibility in workshops with multiple workers and multiple work stations.
  • How to check that your LEV is working properly.
  • How to test for COSHH compliance.

Can Vent-Tech Help you?

If you think you may need help with control wood dust in the workplace, or have an LEV system which you feel may not be adequate, don’t delay in contacting our expert team at Vent-Tech on 0117 964 7945.