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The Dangers of Hardwood Dust Exposure

What Are The Dangers of Hardwood Dust Exposure?

Workers exposed to wood dust on a daily basis can suffer from serious health issues such as asthma, cancer of the nose which can be specifically caused by hardwood dust. The fine particles found in settled wood dust are the most likely to cause damage to the lungs as they are able to be more easily inhaled deep into the lungs. Wood dust can also cause skin problems such as dermatitis.

Wood dust is flammable and can cause fires and/or explosions. Wood dust fires can start in improperly designed, installed or maintained dust extraction equipment, it is vital therefore, that wood dust extraction systems use ATEX rated components and that the explosion vents are vented to a safe place.

It is important that an explosion non-return damper is built into any wood dust extraction system, preventing any explosions from returning via ducting back into the building.

Which Operations Cause High Wood Dust Exposure?

A wide variety of work and hobbyist activities can generate significant volumes of wood dust exposure, which can be particularly notable if exposure is frequent and for long periods.

Examples of such activities include:

  • Wood machining, sawing, routing and turning.

  • Machine or hand sanding.

  • Blowing dust off projects that are currently being worked on.

  • Handling or assembly of components coated in wood dust.

  • Cutting/processing composite boards such as MDF.

  • Handling of wood dust from dust extraction or collection machines.

  • Sweeping or cleaning of wood 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 dusts due to the health dangers. The long-term Workplace Exposure Limit (WEL) for hardwood dust have been set to 3mg/m3 (averaged over 8 hours) while softwood dust has been set to 5mg/m3 (also averaged over 8 hours) . The employee’s exposure to wood dusts must be reduced to ‘as low as reasonably practical’ due to chronic health effects associated with it.

If softwood dusts are mixed with hardwood dusts, the Workplace Exposure Limit (WEL) for hardwood dust shall apply to all the wood dusts present in that mixture.

What Are Examples Of The Health Issues Associated With Wood Dust?

Coughing, sneezing and irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat can be caused by excessive exposure to wood dust, causing breathlessness, dry/sore throat, eye inflammation (conjunctivitis) or runny/stuffy nose (rhinitis). Chemicals in the wood dust can also cause skin conditions such as dermatitis, and skin may become itchy, dry, reddened and blistered.

Wood dust can have an effect on the respiratory system decreasing the capacity of the lungs, and causing hypersensitivity pneumonitis (inflammation of the airways in the lungs). Hypersensitivity pneumonitis develops hours/days after exposure and can be easily confused with cold or flu due to similar symptoms such as headache, breathlessness, chills, sweating, nausea. Symptoms can be severe and may get worse with continued exposure.

Wood dusts have been associated with the development of occupational asthma, while hardwood dusts have also been associated with the development of cancer.

Toxic effects can also be caused by specific species of wood. As the toxic wood particles are absorbed by the body, the chemicals that cause the toxic effects may cause issues such as headaches, breathlessness, weight loss, cramps and an irregular heartbeat.

Control Of Exposure To Wood Dust

In the event that it is impossible or impractical to fully prevent exposure to wood dust, you must follow these good practice principles in order to effectively control exposure. Wood dust exposure can be controlled through a variety of methods, which may include:

  • reducing wood dust at the source by making changes to processes and activities;

  • enclosing the process;

  • Local Exhaust Ventilation (LEV);

  • handling materials properly;

  • maintaining plant and equipment properly;

  • good housekeeping principles (don’t use a brush or compressed air, and never use compressed air to remove dust from clothing);

  • employee training on the use of control measures.

Dust clouds, settled dust on floors, ledges and machines, or machinery leaking dust would indicate a problem that requires action to be taken to reduce dust at source.

What Can RCS Do For You

RCS's engineers will endeavour to provide you with the most effective and cost-efficient solution for wood dust extraction and filtration in partnership with Donaldson. Call us on +44(0)1563 546807 or click here to contact us for more information.


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