Wood dust

The Dangers of Wood Dust

People involved with woodworking can suffer serious health problems as a result of inhaling wood dust. A recognised hazardous substance, it is controlled by health and safety regulations in the workplace to protect employees.

Wood dust comprises tiny particles produced during various processing operations. The Health and Safety Executive warns that it can contain bacteria and moss and fungal spores. The amount of dust generated will depend on the type of wood and the machinery being used.

Wood dust© Eduard Goricev / Shutterstock


What is sawdust?

Sawdust is another name for wood dust. A waste product of woodworking operations including sanding, sawing, milling, routing and planing, it is comprised of minute chippings that can be inhaled into the lungs if the necessary precautions aren’t taken.

In some manufacturing industries, as well as being a health hazard for employees, it can also be a significant fire hazard. Research has been carried out into the health hazards of working with wood and how proper ventilation can help improve indoor air quality in an engineering environment.


Wood dust health hazards

People who work with wood are at risk of breathing in fine particles of sawdust. If woodworkers inhale the dusts, it can cause serious health problems, such as lung damage and various respiratory diseases.

These can include life-changing conditions, including occupational asthmas and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Joiners and carpenters are four times more likely to develop asthma than other workers, according to research. The fine particles of any kind of wood can damage the lungs, but sawdust from hard woods, such as oak and red cedar, is a carcinogen that can also cause sinonasal cancer.

In addition, the dangers of wood dust include fire and explosion hazards. If part of a cloud of wood dust ignites, it can become explosive as the flame spreads throughout the rest of the cloud.

Not all wood dusts are equally flammable and explosive, so the extent of the explosion or fire can vary. However, all present a significant risk to employee safety and may even damage or destroy the building.


Controlling wood dust

The use of wood in the workplace and exposure to the associated harmful sawdust is controlled in the UK by the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations, known as COSHH. The legislation puts in place legal requirements to protect employees from health risks. Every employer has a duty to carry out a thorough risk assessment if employees are working with wood. The employer must take steps to prevent or control exposure by law.

COSHH regulations state that if it’s not reasonably practicable to prevent exposure to a hazardous substance, the employer must control the exposure so that the workplace exposure limit is not exceeded.

The risks from wood dust must be minimised by using working practices that remove sawdust at source, while PPE should be issued to employees as an extra line of defence.


How much exposure to wood dust is dangerous?

Under regulation ten of the COSHH Regulations 2002, employers should carry out regular workplace air monitoring to ensure the amount of wood dust does not exceed the legal safe limits. There is a workplace exposure limit for both hardwood and softwood dusts: the legal limit for hardwood dust is 3 mg per m3 of air; and the limit for softwood dust is 5 mg per m3 of air. If there’s a mixture of hardwood and softwood dust, the legal limit is 3 mg per m3 of air. These measurements are based on an eight-hour time-weighted average.

Employers are advised to carry out a dust measurement survey to assess the workplace and identify whether the wood dust causes an airborne hazard.


Wood dust extraction

The importance of sawdust extraction in protecting staff from wood dust cannot be over-emphasised. It not only prevents employees from contracting potentially life-changing respiratory diseases, but it also ensures businesses are not breaking the law in terms of employee exposure to hazardous substances.

AirBench provides effective dust extraction systems to control dust from a wide range of applications.

We have a market leading range of AirBench downdraught benches that provide efficient wood dust collection systems for your workplace. They work without operator intervention and offer a wide range of system designs and filtration options to suit most processes.

We can normally offer a standard dust extraction solution for almost any manual processes.

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Why choose AirBench?

AirBench Ltd are the UK’s leading manufacturer of downdraught benches and cross draught extraction systems. We have more than 10,000 extraction systems in service in the UK and overseas. Along with our range of coolant mist filters and air cleaning systems, we are actively helping businesses across many industries solve their workplace dust and fume issues.


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