Wood dust is known to cause serious health problems. Carpenters and joiners are four times more likely to suffer asthma than other UK workers.

Hardwood dust is especially hazardous as it contains carcinogens known to cause cancer, in particular nasal cancer.

Currently, both hardwood and softwood dusts carry a Workplace Exposure Limit (WEL) of 5mg per cubic metre. This must not be exceeded and employers must ensure as such.

The limits apply to the amount of airborne dust to which a worker is exposed, averaged over an eight hour working day. Companies have a duty not to exceed the limit and to reduce exposure below the limit as far as reasonably practical.

After reducing dust generation at source as far as possible, employers should be containing and extracting the unavoidable dust.

Due to the fact that wood dust causes asthma, any effects on a worker’s health must be identified early on. This is why wood dust monitoring is incredibly important, especially when combined with health surveillance. In the case of wood dust exposure, spirometry (or lung function testing) should be considered.

Workplace Exposure Limit set to change

The Workplace Exposure Limit for wood dust is set to change under EU law to 3mg per cubic metre in 2020, and then will drop again to 2mg per cubic metre in 2023.

The proposals set out by the EU are centred on hardwood because of its cancer-causing properties. However, in the UK, the limits are going to be applied to all wood dust, i.e. hardwood, softwood, board and mixed materials. It is believed that if it is reasonably practicable to achieve a certain limit for hardwood, then the same should apply to other wood dusts. Whilst dust produced from other woods and materials does not have the same carcinogenic properties as hardwood dust, it still has the potential to contribute to occupational asthma and other conditions. In addition, it is not possible to guarantee that board material does not contain any hardwood whatsoever.

How to deal with dust exposure monitoring in the workplace

The only real way to prove that you are below the legal limit for dust exposure is through dust exposure monitoring.

This involves taking personal samples from a range of operators. They are fitted with a small, unobtrusive pump which draws a known volume of air through a filter during a period of at least four hours. The change in the weight of the filter is measured and converted into mg per cubic metre so that the volume of dust exposure can be ascertained.

At Alistair Bromhead Ltd we work closely with many woodworking operations, assisting them with a range of health and safety issues including dust exposure monitoring and spirometry.

Our service entails spending a day within a dust-exposed workplace, monitoring a range of tasks and presenting the results of our findings as part of a risk assessment report. The report includes recommendations for further improvements where necessary.

For companies seeking to keep a handle on costs, we offer a dust monitoring pump rental service and can supply filter cassettes for the pumps alongside instructions for use.

To learn more about our dust exposure monitoring service or to make a booking, call us on 0800 710 1099 or email info@abromhead.co.uk.