Dusting off old habits - wood dust compliance

Wood Focus magazine
28 Apr 2014

Sawmills in British Columbia are facing a crackdown on wood dust compliance. But what’s happening on this side of the pond? Are UK woodworking companies doing enough to meet the Health and Safety Executive’s regulations? Ledetta Asfa-Wossen asks the experts.

Proprietor, The Wood Consultancy

I don’t know if woodworking companies are doing enough but I should imagine that with the HSE requirements for health and safety in the workplace, most companies would be. If not, then the HSE will consider appropriate steps including taking action should that advice not be followed, or if the rules are being flouted.

Concentration of dust in any industry, not just the woodworking sector, creates potential workplace hazards and risks to health from prolonged exposure, both of which can be addressed by installation, correct operation and regular maintenance of dust extraction systems. The use of personal protection equipment and education of employees as to their use, and the reasons for keeping work spaces clear of dust and debris are all essential requirements.

Two messages were displayed at a company I worked at many years ago: Measure twice – cut once, and The job is not finished until the mess is cleaned up’. To sum it up in 10 words, workplace education and attention to detail – safety is everyone’s business.

Independent PIABC approved training provider, ATT

I think companies should be forced to comply with wood dust control and mitigation measures. However, I don’t approve of using fines as a penalty on companies that have been found not to meet a regulation. Collecting fines is a good thing from a government’s point of view, but it’s a bad thing if it makes it harder for companies to find the money to fix the problem. Companies should be forced to bring their local exhaust ventilation (LEV) up to standard, but I do not think fines are the right way to go about it. The maximum time between tests of LEV systems is set down in the HSE’s Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH). For most systems, this is 14 months and I think these inspections are sufficient.

It’s interesting to see how the goalposts keep getting moved. What was regarded acceptable 30–40 years ago is completely different now, but by the same token we must do what it takes to make environments safe for our workers. That was the way things were then and this is the way things are now, and the wood industry has to change with it.

Independent Wood Consultant and Editor of International Wood Products Journal

Wood dust compliance is an interesting issue. However, I wonder if recent sawmill inspections initiatives can really make a difference? To inspect sawmills and wood machining companies for health and safety compliance is to go for the soft targets. These enterprises only account for a small proportion of the employees exposed to wood dust. The majority are small enterprises that are unlikely to ever be visited by the inspectorate. This would include many hundreds of small timber merchant outlets, as well as small joinery shops and individual tradesmen.

Membership Director, British Woodworking Federation (BWF)

I can only speak for members of the BWF who are required, as part of the Federation’s Code of Conduct, to comply with the relevant health and safety legislation and codes of practice.

BWF members are provided with extensive guidance on dealing with hazardous substances. These include wood dust and LEV maintenance, extraction systems and standalone dust collectors, as well as portable devices for use on power handtools and spray booths, and having in place a suitable and sufficient wood dust risk assessment in which employers consider the risks to employees and identify existing or additional measures to control the risk.

I think that the majority of woodworking employers are supportive of any legislation that seeks to protect the health and welfare of their employees. In addition to a legal duty to take reasonable care for the health and safety of anyone who may be affected by their work activities, every employer also has a moral obligation to protect their employees.

Being conscious of the limited resources available to the HSE, I feel that inspections should concentrate on companies who are not members of a professional body that already incorporates a relevant code of practice.

HSE Inspector of General Manufacturing – Wood and Rubber

Wood dust is a significant health issue. It causes occupational asthma and other respiratory problems, and hardwood dust can also cause nasal cancer. While there have been improvements in woodworking safety, the health risks are underestimated and often poorly controlled. A year ago, HSE started an inspection programme targeting woodworking premises, looking at dust control issues as well as machinery safety. Our inspectors have found low levels of compliance with COSHH regulations – and in hundreds of cases, we have had to take enforcement action, including prosecutions for inadequate control of the risks of wood dust.

The best way to control wood dust is an effective LEV system that captures and removes the dust at source before it can spread. The LEV must be properly designed and maintained, and correctly used.

Workers should be trained so that they know the risks from wood dust, what all the control measures are and how to use them. Employers should have health surveillance in place to detect adverse health effects to employees early on.

Information on wood dust and how to control the risks, including links to sample health surveillance questionnaires, can be found at www.hse.gov.uk/ woodworking/wooddust.htm