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Workplace Dust: Are You Keeping Within the Law?

15 January 2015

If you are an employer in an industry where workers are exposed to dust, you have a duty under the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations 2002 to protect them from the hazards.

The woodworking sector is one that is particularly affected by these regulations, and one in which there have been numerous improvement notices and prosecutions due to a lack of wood dust control.

Serious health issues

Wood dust can cause serious health issues including occupational asthma. Hardwood dust can cause cancer, in particular of the nose.

Both softwood and hardwood dusts are subject to a Workplace Exposure Limit (WEL) of 5mg/m3. This level is in respect of dust in the air on average over an eight hour working day. Exceeding this level is not an option and employers have a duty to reduce exposure as low as reasonably practicable.

Health effects must be picked up as early as possible by obtaining information about employees’ health using health surveillance. The HSE says that low surveillance should be sufficient for most types of wood. They recommend new employees completing a questionnaire which includes details of any symptoms such as watering eyes, bouts of coughing and breathlessness. Then, after six weeks, they suggest a follow up questionnaire asking the same sort of questions for comparison purposes. Follow ups should then be repeated annually.

If you operate in an industry where there is exposure to hardwoods then a higher level of health surveillance is recommended. This could include lung function testing for example.

Wood dust monitoring

Wood dust exposure monitoring is the best way of proving that exposure levels are kept below the Workplace Exposure Limit.

Alistair Bromhead Ltd offers a dust exposure monitoring service to measure the level of dust exposure of individual employees. This information is provided in a report which combines recommendations as to how any problematic exposures might be reduced.

Dust surveys can be combined with noise monitoring surveys to keep costs down. 

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