Are you Protecting your Workers from the Dangers of Hardwood Dust?

June 4, 2018

A UK furniture making company has been sentenced and fined for failing to keep its workers safe from harmful hardwood dust exposure. The Hertfordshire company, who specialise in the manufacture of dining and cabinet furniture, pleaded guilty to breaching regulations 7(1) and 9(2)(a) of the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations. The company was fined £8,000 and also ordered to pay costs of £1,080. Read the full story here.

Are you keeping your workers safe?

What are the Dangers of Hardwood Dust Exposure?

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, specifically, 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. 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 operations cause high wood dust exposures?

The following work or recreational activities are likely to produce high volumes of dust exposure, and are particularly notable when occurring daily over long periods:

  • Wood machining operations, particularly sawing, routing or turning.
  • Sanding, by machine or by hand.
  • Use of compressed airlines to blow dust off furniture that is being worked on.
  • Hand assembly of machined or sanded components.
  • Operations involving cutting or processing composite boards, for example medium-density fibreboard (MDF).
  • The bagging and handling of wood dust from dust extraction systems or dust collection machines.
  • Sweeping up of wood dust from floors or high level cleaning of dust.

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. Both hardwood and softwood dusts have a WEL of 5 mg/m3. These are the limits placed on the amount of dust in the air, averaged over a regular 8 hour working day.

How should Wood Dust Exposure be Controlled?

Under COSHH, employers (including contractors) have a duty to carry out a suitable and sufficient risk assessment in all areas in the workplace. They must also take steps to ensure they prevent or adequately control exposure to wood dust and provide suitable protective equipment.

LEV Systems for Controlling Wood Dust

Installing an 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 of 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. As highlighted in the example of the furniture company above, if found to be in breach of regulations, you will be fined. More importantly, do you want the ill health of your workers on your conscience?