How to Manage Health & Safety When Working With Wood Dust

When working in construction, there is nothing more important than ensuring the health and safety of workers and the public. Construction is one of the world’s most dangerous sectors due to the level of risks associated with new build and redevelopment projects. The top hazards of the industry usually include working at height, slips and trips, working with machinery, and lifting heavy loads. If the construction project involves woodworking, then there is also the risk of wood dust.

Auto Extract Systems is a provider of high-quality, flexible dust and fume extraction solutions. Supporting businesses across multiple sectors, they help workplaces remain safe and compliant with legal requirements and health guidelines. One area that they have expertise in is with wood dust extraction. Auto Extract have provided us with this article which covers what wood dust is, what the dangers are, and how construction companies can reduce the risk.

What Is Wood Dust?

Wood dust is, quite simply, produced when specialist machinery or tools are used to process wood. Typically, woodworking operations that can produce wood dust include sawing, sanding, routing and milling. Wood dust may also be referred to as sawdust or wood shavings. When wood dust is formed, it can be a health hazard, especially in occupational environments where the process is usually carried out.

What Are the Dangers for Construction?

Wood dust is widely recognised across the world as a serious health and safety hazard. As the fine dust particles travel through the air, they can penetrate the alveoli which are the air sacs in our lungs. If appropriate measures are not taken to reduce risk, exposure can lead to a range of problems. Wood dust exposure can occur in almost any industry, but it is especially common in construction, sawmills, timber workshops, and joinery workshops. It’s understood that joiners and carpenters are the people most likely to suffer health effects following exposure.

The effects of wood dust exposure can be extremely damaging to a person’s health. There are several health effects to be worried about, and as wood materials and coatings can affect the impact it has on a person, the risks can be unpredictable. The health effects are also dependent on how long the person has been exposed to the dust.

There are a wide range of known health effects caused by various types of wood. While we won’t provide a definitive list, wood dust exposure can generally lead to asthma, skin irritation, lung damage, cancer, and allergic responses. Other known issues include heart disease, eye damage and organic damage if it enters the bloodstream. Wood dust is also flammable, which means that allowing it to spread can create a fire hazard.

How to Keep Sites Safe From Wood Dust Hazards

The health effects of wood dust are expansive and can vary based on several factors, but employers should do everything that is reasonable to control exposure. First and foremost, it is in a company’s best interests to ensure the health and wellbeing of their employees. Failure to do so can result in serious consequences, such as fines and reputation damage. Secondly, countries have strict laws for health and safety in the workplace. In the UK, the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations control how wood dust is regulated. COSHH sets out what employers are required to do by law to control and prevent exposure to wood dust for their employees.

The best recommended solution for keeping a workplace secure from wood dust exposure is to install a local exhaust ventilation system. LEV systems are proven to be highly effective at capturing dust at source level as soon as it is produced. Once captured, the dust is removed from the air and prevented from polluting the workplace. It is advised that removing dust as soon as possible should be a priority for prevention before considering other methods such as personal protective equipment. There are multiple LEV solutions available to capture dust based on your individual requirements, including portable extractors, cyclone filtration systems, and bag filters.

By implementing effective control measures, you will be preventing your staff from developing serious health issues while ensuring that your business remains compliant with local health and safety laws. If opting for an LEV system, it’s essential to realise that there may be additional laws and guidelines to follow. LEV systems should operate in a safe and fully functioning way as intended. In the UK, regular LEV testing is required to make sure that systems work and are compliant.

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