I have recently visited a small well established wood processing workshop whihc requested an occupational exposure assessments of their operatives to wood dust. The company specialised in cutting of wooden decorative components for the furniture industry. Their main products were kitchen units and furniture doors. The production facility consisted on the ground floor from small office unit and main production areas and on the first floor from storage, spray booth and another small production area. The company employed 5 operatives who usually worked a full 8 hours working day.
The workshop mainly worked with processed wood materials, natural wood, MDF and plywood. Majority of the wood materials consisted of soft wood with a small proportion of the time of the assessment hard wood material were not used. The main exposure hazards in this setting were soft wood dust and coating materials.
The main exposure hazard is soft wood dust which has a set workplace exposure limit of 5mg/m3 of inhalable dust. According to HSE “Wood dust is a substance hazardous to health because it can cause serious non-reversible health problems, including: skin disorders; obstruction in the nose, and rhinitis; asthma; a rare type of nasal cancer “.
The wood dust monitoring program was carried out in accordance with MDHS 14/4 and all the workshop operatives were monitoring for the whole duration of their working day. As a part of the overall assessment I have also evaluated the effectiveness of existing local exhaust ventilation, respiratory protection and working methods.
Wood dust monitoring results suggested that all the employees were likely to be exposed to levels of inhalable soft wood dust above the exposure limits. Some of the employees exceeded the maximum levels by 200%. I have identified several issues with the existing lev system which was ineffective and damaged in places.
The company also maintained generally poor standard of cleanliness in the working areas. Some of the employees allowed excessive dust accumulation in their work area which contributed to their high personal exposure levels.
The company did not routinely use respiratory protection and when used the disposable respirators were stored exposed in the work areas allowing the wood dust to settle in internal parts of respirators. I have recommended a range of management measures with the aim to improve the usage, maintenance and storage of respiratory protection while improvements to engineering control were being implemented.
Due to the high exposure levels of the operatives to the wood dust I have strongly recommended a formal health surveillance program as described in HS G401 document.