The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) recognises that wood dust exposure can cause significant harm to workers, including:
Respiratory Issues: Wood dust can cause respiratory issues as it contains tiny particles that can enter the lungs and cause irritation or inflammation. Long-term wood dust exposure can lead to chronic bronchitis, asthma, or even lung cancer.
Allergic Reactions: Some people are allergic to wood dust, which can cause symptoms such as sneezing, runny nose, itchy eyes, and skin rashes. In severe cases, it can lead to anaphylaxis, a life-threatening allergic reaction.
Eye and Skin Irritation: Wood dust can cause irritation to the eyes and skin, especially if the worker is exposed to it for long periods.
Fire Hazard: Wood dust is highly flammable and can easily ignite, causing a fire hazard in the workplace.
Wood Dust Exposure Regulations
Therefore, in the UK, the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations 2002 and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) provide guidance on protecting workers from wood dust. According to the HSE, exposure to wood dust can cause a range of health problems, including asthma, nasal cancer, and dermatitis.
HSE UK regulations require employers to:
Identify the hazards and assess the risks: Employers must identify the hazards associated with wood dust and assess the risks to workers. This includes determining the exposure levels and the potential health effects.
Control the risks: Employers must take steps to control the risks associated with wood dust. This can include engineering controls, such as local exhaust ventilation, and administrative controls, such as limiting the time workers spend in areas where wood dust is present.
Provide information, instruction, and training: Employers must provide workers with information, instruction, and training on the hazards associated with wood dust, the control measures in place, and how to use personal protective equipment (PPE) correctly.
Provide appropriate PPE: Employers must provide workers with appropriate PPE, such as respiratory protective equipment, eye protection, and gloves, to protect against exposure to wood dust.
Monitor exposure: Employers must monitor workers' exposure to wood dust to ensure that control measures are effective and exposure levels are within legal limits.
Carry out health surveillance: Employers must carry out health surveillance for workers who are exposed to wood dust, to identify any health effects at an early stage.
PPE for Wood Dust
When choosing RPE it is very important to remember not only to use masks that have a high filtration efficiency, such as an FFP3 Respirator, but also to make sure that the mask fits properly.
Fit testing for tight fitting RPE is the process of checking the seal between the mask and the wearer's face to ensure that the mask is properly fitted and able to provide effective protection against airborne particles. The purpose of fit testing is to identify any gaps or leaks between the mask and the face that could allow dust to enter the wearer's respiratory system.
It is important to note that face fit testing should be performed by a trained professional during the initial selection process of tight fitting RPE, it also needs to be repeated if there are changes to the wearer's face, such as weight loss or gain, or if the mask model or size is changed. Regular fit testing is also recommended to ensure that the tight fitting RPE continues to provide adequate protection over time, this time period has been set at 2 years by the HSE.
Wood Dust Exposure Fines
There have been several cases in the UK where companies have faced large fines for exposing workers to wood dust. For example:
In 2019, a furniture manufacturer in Somerset was fined £60,000 for exposing workers to high levels of wood dust. The company was found to have failed to provide adequate control measures, including local exhaust ventilation systems and respiratory protective equipment, to protect workers from the hazards of wood dust
In 2018, a joinery company in the North West of England was fined £40,000 for failing to protect workers from exposure to wood dust. The company was found to have inadequate control measures in place, including a lack of local exhaust ventilation and failure to provide appropriate respiratory protective equipment
In 2017, a timber firm in Yorkshire was fined £900,000 after two workers developed severe asthma as a result of exposure to wood dust. The company was found to have failed to assess the risks associated with wood dust and to provide adequate control measures and PPE
The above examples illustrate the importance of complying with regulations and taking appropriate measures to protect workers from exposure to wood dust. Failure to do so can result in legal action, fines, and harm to workers' health.
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