COSHH – Woodworking Health and Safety

Man woodworking
LLB (Hons) Charlotte Davies
Written by: Annabel Chadwick, Charlotte Davies Legally reviewed by: LLB (Hons) Charlotte Davies Updated: In: Industrial Disease

The Health and Safety of Woodworking

On the 1st April 2022, there was a press release from the Health & Safety Executive (‘HSE’) about woodworking businesses being targeted and inspected. The HSE is Britain’s national regulator for workplace health and safety.

The HSE have noticed an increased rate of occupational asthma and work-aggravated asthma incidents in the woodworking industry. HSE’s Head of Manufacturing, David Butter said:

Around 12,000 workers died last year from lung diseases linked to past exposure from work, with thousands more cases of ill-health and working days lost. Wood dust can cause serious health problems. It can cause asthma, which carpenters and joiners are four times more likely to get compared with other UK workers, as well as nasal cancer. Our campaign aims to help businesses whose workers cut and shape wood to take action now to protect their workers’ respiratory health…’’

The type of woodwork involves but is not limited to, the use of hardwood, softwood and wood composite dust. The type of wood can be machined or sanded for the wood particles to become airborne within the working environment. These types of workplaces are usually saw mills, manufacturers of composite boards and carpentries.

What is the Purpose of HSE’s Inspections?

The purpose of the HSE carrying out these inspections is to ensure that the employer is complying with their duties. In this instance, the exposure to wood dust relates to the regulations of the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health, as well as other regulations. As a law firm, we have many claims where employees are suffering from occupational asthma or work-aggravated asthma due to failings of their employer.

If you are an employer within this industry, the HSE has urged you to act now and ensure that you are complying with what is required of you.  Here are some helpful tips for you:

Risk Assessment

Carrying out a suitable and sufficient risk assessment will assist you in identifying whether there is a potential risk of exposure to irritants and if the substances are hazardous to health. It may mean you need to contact the manufacturer of the product to see if it has components that are hazardous. These risk assessments need to be reviewed at least annually.

Exposure Limits

There are types of wood dust (hardwood and softwood) that have a Workplace Exposure Limit (WEL) that should not be exceeded. This can usually be confirmed by an occupational hygienist.  As an employer, it is your duty to ensure that the exposure is reduced to a low level as reasonably practicable.

Extraction System

Having a dust extraction system where each woodworking machine is will remove the dust particulars before they can spread. This can potentially prevent your employers from being exposed to hazardous substances.

Respiratory Protective Equipment

Depending on the exposure to the wood, your employees may require additional protection in terms of a face mask. You will need to ensure that the face mask is the appropriate type for the role. It is highly recommended that your employees have a face fitted test carried out and the face masks are maintained.

Train and Inform your Employees

It is all well and good carrying out the above, but your employees will require training and information on it too. They need to have a good understanding of the potential risks of exposure to the wood, and what is required of them, i.e., reporting any issues with machines/equipment as this can increase the exposure, and how to wear the RPE correctly and ensure that it is maintained.

Health Surveillance

It may be necessary to refer your employees to an occupational health expert to carry out lung function tests. This will identify those employees with an injury or at risk of an injury, and for you to carry out the necessary steps to protect them. This may mean revisiting the risk assessment to identify how they are being exposed to the wood dust or changing the face masks to see if a different type will suffice.

The HSE provided useful information and guidance for employers to follow, as their purpose is to ensure that all working environments are safe. We have provided a link below about the woodworking industry and what needs to be in place.

Health and safety in the woodworking industry (hse.gov.uk)

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