Health effects of wood dust – Exposure to wood dust has long been associated with a variety of adverse health effects, including dermatitis, allergic respiratory effects, mucosal and nonallergic respiratory effects, and cancer. Contact with the irritant compounds in wood sap can cause dermatitis and other allergic reactions.
Due to lots of health challenges associated with exposure to wood as captured in this article “Health effects of wood dust“, it is pertinent to draw out strategies on how to minimize exposure to wood dust.
Also, the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations 2002 require that workers should be protected from the hazards of wood dust.
Some of the occupations at increased risk of exposure to wood dust include the following people in the following profession;
- Workers in logging, sawmills, furniture, and cabinet making
- Cleaning or maintenance staff
- Construction workers
- Shipbuilding workers
|Health Effects Reported with Various Types of Woods
[Adopted from Work Safe Alberta (2009)]
|Wood Type||Health Effects|
|Alder (common, black, red)||Dermatitis (black alder); decrease in lung function (red alder)|
|Aspen||No health effect reported|
|Beech||Dermatitis (wood cutter’s disease) due to lichens growing on the bark of beech trees, rhinitis, asthma, nasal cancer|
|Cedar (western red)||Asthma, allergic contact dermatitis, sensitizer, decrease in lung function, eye irritation and conjunctivitis, rhinitis|
|Douglas Fir||Contact eczema, decrease in lung capacity|
|Fir (grand, balsam, silver, alpine)||Skin irritation, dermatitis, rhinitis, asthma, possible decrease in lung function|
|Hemlock||Skin irritation, decreased lung function|
|Larch (European, western)||Allergic dermatitis from European larch; no reports with western larch|
|Maple||Rhinitis, asthma, Maple Bark Stripper’s disease (mould spores in bark)|
|Pine (white, lodgepole, jack)||Skin irritation, contact dermatitis, Wood-Pulp Worker’s disease (mould in bark), rhinitis, asthma|
|Poplar||Contact dermatitis, sensitizer|
|Rosewood||Eczema, allergic contact dermatitis|
|Spruce||Skin irritation, Wood-Pulp Worker’s disease (mould spores in bark), decrease in lung function|
|Teak||Toxic, dermatitis, sensitizer|
|Walnut (black)||Skin irritation, rhinitis, possible asthma|
|Yew||Irritation of skin, dermatitis, toxic|
Note that products used on or in wood may also have hazards. Substances like – Resins, pesticides, paint, paint strippers, glues, adhesives, waterproofing compounds, lacquers, varnishes, sealants, dyes, and other products.
Managing exposure to wood dust – General precautions
- Know which type of wood is being used and all hazards associated with that wood.
- Substitute with another type of wood with no or fewer known health effects, were possible.
- Reduce dust generation by reducing the need to cut or shape the wood.
- Both hardwood and softwood dusts have a Workplace Exposure Limit (WEL) of 5mg/m3 which must not be exceeded.
- Provide dust extraction (also known as local exhaust ventilation or LEV) at woodworking machines to capture and remove dust before it can spread.
Design the extraction system to take into account:
- The number and type of machines to be connected to it, the ones that are used together and the layout of the workshop or factory.
- The machine manufacturer’s information or an experienced body’s information on air flow and extraction cross-sectional areas or volume flow rates (VFR) required for each extraction connection for each machine.
- Keep tools and blades sharp. As dull tools tend to release more dust into the air.
- Practice good housekeeping. Use cleaning methods that reduce re-introducing the dust into the air. Use wet clean-up methods (E.g Wipe surfaces with a wet rag or mop) or use a vacuum with a HEPA filter.
- Read, understand, and follow health and safety information on the safety data sheet where available and applicable.
- Provide appropriate education and training that informs employees about the hazards of wood dust exposure, safe work procedures, how to identify when a ventilation system is working appropriately, and the importance of control measures.
- Wear respiratory protection when appropriate.
- Use protective clothing and gloves to reduce skin exposure.
- Practice good personal hygiene (e.g., wash or shower to remove dust from skin). Wash hands and face after every task, and before eating, drinking or smoking. Clean clothes by washing or using a vacuum when washing facilities are not available.
- Bag and seal dust waste to prevent dust from re-entering the air.
- DO NOT use compressed air to blow dust off of furniture, equipment or clothing.
- To prevent a combustible dust explosion, DO NOT allow wood dust to accumulate, including on ledges, ceiling beams, light fixtures, hidden areas, etc.
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