Woodworking is an essential industry with a diverse range of jobs such as creating furniture, cutting logs into lumber, and so forth. As well as being a viable career option, working with wood can also be a rewarding and enjoyable hobby. However, there’s no doubt that woodworking tasks can be hazardous if safety precautions aren’t taken care of. Common risks of working with wood include fire hazards, using dangerous equipment and encountering harmful substances. One of the biggest dangers that cannot be ignored is the potential for contaminants to enter the air, particularly wood dust.
Auto Extract Systems is an LEV specialist that helps companies mitigate the risk of fume and dust hazards. One area they specialise in is woodworking dust extraction, providing systems that generate cleaner environments for workers and helping businesses comply with health and safety requirements. As a specialist in this matter, Auto Extract has provided us with some helpful advice on the risks of wood dust and steps that can improve safety.
The Dangers of Wood Dust
If you are working with wood, the first thing to be aware of is the dangers that this line of work possesses concerning dust. Dust falls under two categories, inhalable dust and respirable dust. Inhalable dust enters the nose and mouth via breathing, while respirable dust enters deeper parts of the body and can penetrate the lungs. When wood is processed, tiny dust particles become suspended in the air, creating wood dust, a harmful element to humans. Wood dust is often formed during processes like sawing, sanding and routing, and when cleaning furniture. While almost any business can be affected by this, the health risks are more significant for woodworking businesses like joinery workshops and sawmills.
Exposure to wood dust is proven to be linked to various health issues. Inhaling wood dust can cause respiratory problems, creating long-lasting damage. People can experience difficulties breathing and decreased lung capacity. Wood dust is considered carcinogenic, which means it can even form cancer, especially lung cancer. Other harmful effects of wood dust include skin sensation, eye damage, throat and nose irritation, allergic reactions, and occupational asthma. Dust is also flammable and can cause a severe fire or explosion hazard. One of the biggest risks is fine dust, which leads to more particles in the air and easier inhalation. Fine dust can enter deeper parts of the lungs and even the bloodstream.
Different types of wood have their unique health effects. Hardwood, for example, is particularly dangerous, and it generally produces more dust and can cause a rare form of nasal cancer. Coatings used with wood, such as glue and resin, can also create unique hazards. The effects of wood dust on a person vary depending on several factors, including the type of wood, how aggressively it was cut, and the length of exposure.
How to Protect Yourself and Others
Now that you know about the dangers of wood dust, it’s clear to see why you must go above and beyond to protect yourself and others. Employers have a duty to look after their staff by implementing adequate prevention measures, while employees are responsible for following these measures to keep themselves and their colleagues safe.
One of the best ways to mitigate the risk of wood dust is by installing a local exhaust ventilation system. An LEV is more than just a simple extractor fan. LEV systems are designed to capture airborne contaminants at the source and process them safely, removing the harmful materials before they become airborne and reach workers. Therefore, wood dust extraction systems help create a pollution-free working environment with clean air that is safe to breathe. The right solution for your business can depend on the size of your workspace and the tasks you operate. Options include direct connections, dust filter units, portable dust filters, and bespoke solutions for complex scenarios.
Implementing an LEV system comes with risk in itself. Given the serious nature of transporting harmful contaminants safely, systems must function correctly. If an extraction system is faulty or used improperly, the contaminants may become airborne before they are safely disposed of. Therefore, regular testing and servicing are a legal requirements. The Health and Safe Executive (HSE), which is in charge of ensuring the safety and welfare of UK employees, states that equipment must be examined by a competent person at least every 14 months.
There are other measures you can take alongside an LEV system. Firstly, anyone working with wood should identify the type of wood and its associated health risks. Protective clothing and respiratory protection such as gloves and face masks may be recommended. Workers should recognise that cleaning or maintaining equipment can pose a significant exposure risk. Tools and blades should be sharpened as dull material can release more dust into the air. Employees should always maintain good hygiene, washing their skin or clothes regularly. Compressed air should be avoided when moving wood dust. Workers should be trained on using extraction systems correctly, and their time spent working with dust should be limited to safe periods.
Wood dust is a serious problem that can lead to significant consequences. If the HSE finds that regulations have been broken, they won’t hold back in pursuing severe punishment. Consequences can range from heavy fines to suspension from managing another company. The most serious of offences can lead to imprisonment. Of course, this pales in comparison to the biggest consequence, which is the health effect on workers. In 2022, the HSE is cracking down on wood dust hazards with a year-long campaign targeting woodworking businesses. Inspectors will visit sites to ensure measures are in place and regulations are adhered to.
As we’ve explained in this article, wood dust is a significant danger to people’s health when the particles become airborne and are inhaled. However, that shouldn’t put you off the idea of working with wood. It’s entirely possibly to undertake woodwork activities in a safe way. We’ve outlined just some of the steps you and others can take to mitigate the risk. Businesses that invest in suitable LEV systems, efficient safety procedures and adequate training are well-placed to meet HSE regulations and safeguard the health of workers.