How much exposure to wood dust is dangerous?
While wood dust might seem harmless, it can cause serious health problems if inhaled. In recent years HSE has updated it’s EH40 Workplace Exposure Limits (WELs) which sets out the maximum exposure employees should have to a substance in the workplace. In this guide, we’ll explain the potential dangers of exposure to wood dust in the workplace, and outline how to combat it.
What is wood dust?
Wood dust, also known as sawdust, is created when machines or tools are used to saw, cut, plane, shape, or sand wood. Wood dust is present in all stages of woodworking and in particular in businesses such as sawmills, furniture-making, cabinet-making and carpentry.
What are the dangers of wood dust inhalation?
The risks associated with wood dust inhalation depend on a number of factors such as the length and intensity of exposure and the type of wood being processed. Generally, at a minimum, wood dust is likely to irritate the eyes, nose and throat and can cause coughing and difficulty breathing.
Exposure to softwood is known to be less dangerous than hardwood but can still cause irritation and illness. Some hardwoods like oak, mahogany and beech all have been associated with an increased risk of developing respiratory irritation and health conditions including;
- Occupational asthma: Studies show that prolonged exposure to hardwood dust has been linked to the development of occupational asthma.
- Nasal and sinus irritation: Not only can hardwood dust cause irritation to the nasal passages and sinuses but in some cases it can develop into chronic sinusitis.
- Allergic reactions: Continued exposure to hardwood could potentially cause allergic reactions in some individuals, like rashes and hives. In severe cases it could even cause anaphylaxis.
- Nasal cancer: Tropical hardwoods have been associated with an increased risk of developing nasal cancer. This is rare but does have the potential of being serious when it occurs.
Updated wood dust exposure limits
Both hardwoods and softwoods are considered dangerous when inhaled in large quantities, which is why the HSE has established WEL limits which must not be exceeded. The exposure limits are as follows;
- Hardwood: 3mg/m3 (based on an 8-hour time-weighted average)
- Softwood: 5mg/m3 (based on an 8-hour time-weighted average)
- Mixtures of hard and softwood: 3mg/m3 (based on an 8-hour time-weighted average)
It’s important to remember that the WEL limits serve as a minimum limit level and the level of dust should be kept as low as reasonably possible.
How can Purex help?
Here at Purex, we have over 30 years of experience in supplying fume and dust extraction over a wide range of industries.
Our connections in the industry mean we’re equipped to recommend the wood and heavy dust extraction that’s best suited for your needs. And what’s more, our qualified technicians are able to install and set up your LEV system for you. Our high level of service is why we’re known for our quality LEV testing. We’ll test any LEV system for you, even if it’s not a Purex model.
For more information on how we can help, contact our helpful team today. Or if your current LEV system needs servicing, easily book your next LEV test with our team.