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Wood Dust

Wood dust is a hazardous substance that can cause serious health problems to those involved with woodworking

"Wood dust is made up of tiny particles of wood produced during processing. Wood dust can contain bacteria, fungal and moss spores. The amount and type of wood dust generated will depend on the wood being cut and the machine being used." - HSE1

Wood Dust Hazards

Health Hazards

Employees working with wood are at risk from breathing in fine particles of wood dust. Inhaling dusts at work can cause lung damage and over time may develop into respiratory diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and occupational asthmas. Carpenters and joiners are four times as likely to develop asthma than other workers. Settled dust contains the fine particles that are most likely to damage the lungs. Hardwoods, such as oak, western red cedar and iroko are carcinogens and can cause sinonasal cancer.

Cutting processes and how aggressive the machine blade profile is, as well as the type of wood, soft or hardwood, will determine the type of wood dust produced.

Fire and Explosion Hazards

Wood dust may be explosive if part of a cloud of wood dust ignites and flame spreads through the rest of the cloud. Not all flammable dusts are equally explosive, and the extent of the explosion will vary.

Factors affecting explosion severity:

  • Type and concentration of wood dust
  • Particle size distribution
  • Moisture content
  • Size of the source of ignition
  • Strength of the enclosure

There are two main types of hazard:

  • A flash fire can occur when an unconfined wood dust cloud catches fire
  • A destructive explosion can occur when the wood dust is contained and therefore a build-up of pressure occurs

Controlling Wood Dust

Wood Dust and Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations (COSHH)

COSHH, sets out the legal requirements to protect workers from health risks caused from hazardous substances at work. Employers have a duty to carry out a suitable and sufficient risk assessment and take steps to ensure they prevent or adequately control exposure.

COSHH states that, where it is not reasonably practicable to prevent exposure to a hazardous substance, control of that exposure should only be treated as adequate if:

  • The principles of good practice for the control of exposure are applied
  • Any workplace exposure limit (WEL) is not exceeded
  • For a substance that has the potential to cause cancer or occupational asthma exposure is reduced to as low a level as is reasonably practicable

Because of the potential health implications, wood dust is covered by COSHH. The risk from wood dust should be minimised, ideally by using work methods that do not generate wood dust or by removing it at source. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) should be issued as a last line of defence.

Air Monitoring

Under Reg 10 of the COSHH Regulations 2002, employers must ensure that workplace air monitoring is undertaken when working with hazardous substances to ensure adequate control.

Workplace Exposure Limits (WEL)

Both hardwood and softwood dusts have a Workplace Exposure Limit (WEL) which must not be exceeded. A dust measurement survey is recommended to assess your workplace and to identify any wood dust issues. By identifying whether wood dust causes an airborne hazard, controls can be put in place to reduce exposure to inhalable wood dust particles and mitigate the potential risk these can cause to their workers' health.

  • Hardwood Dust WEL is 3mg/m3*
  • Softwood Dust WEL is 5mg/m3*
  • Mixtures of both WEL is 3mg/m3

*(based on an 8-hour time-weighted average).

To calculate the airborne concentrations of wood dust in your workplace and recommend realistic solutions to reduce the exposure to your employees, contact our Arco Professional Safety Services team:

Explosion Control

Wood dust is flammable and, in certain situations, can cause a fire or explosion. Even a fine layer of wood dust poses a significant risk. Minimising fire and explosion hazards are vitally important.

Dust Collection Units

Dust collection units can be used to remove and filter large flows of wood waste safely and efficiently.

  • Ensure the system is designed correctly to meet ATEX and NPFA standards, to protect your workers and facility
  • Site collection units outside away from areas where there may be people
  • If siting indoors take precautions depending on the size of the unit, the size and construction of the room the unit is in, the number of people nearby and proximity to walkways and combustible materials
  • Get advice on dust collection units email us at:

ATEX Industrial Safety Vacuums

ATEX Industrial Safety Vacuums are designed to be used where there is a presence of explosive dust to effectively remove wood waste and avoid re-settling of wood dust clouds.

  • Never use a normal vacuum to collect wood dust - the presence of oxygen and an ignition source with sufficient energy and a flammable substance are all factors which can provoke an explosion. The finer the dust, the higher the risk of explosion!
  • Use ATEX industrial safety vacuums to pick up the wood dust and separate it from the surrounding air, isolating into the container
  • Ensure you select the right safety vacuum for the size of facility you have
  • Arrange a site survey, contact us

Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations 2002 (DSEAR)

DSEAR EU directive ATEX137 requires all employers to protect their workers from explosive environments in their workplace.

  • Eliminate and reduce risk by assessing risks, mitigation, preparing emergency plans, and improving employee training. We offer specialist DSEAR consultancy to help you with this, learn more
  • Undertake a DSEAR site assessment this needs to be done by a competent person with specialist knowledge and expertise. We offer DSEAR site assessments that advise on compliance with the DSEAR Regulations, the classification of areas and an assessment of the substances in use and in storage within the workplace. Learn more
  • Implement DSEAR Awareness Training, it’s important that a competent person understands the legal aspects of The Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmosphere Regulations (DSEAR) 2002 and how these apply to to an organisation. Our training enables delegates to understand their legal obligations and in turn help their employer comply with their legal duty. Learn more

Engineering Controls: Extraction

To prevent risk exposure whilst working indoors, engineering controls appropriate to the workspace and the operation are required. In the hierarchy of control risk reduction methods must be implemented to remove or reduce the risks associated with wood dust.

Always assume wood dust is explosive and undertake a wood dust explosion test to ascertain whether it is explosive or not. The dust explosion risk depends upon the mean particle size of the dust, the HSE state that:

"Wood waste usually has a dust explosion risk where the mean particle size is less than 200 microns, and where as little as 10% of the mixture contains dust less than 80 microns in size".2

Activities that produce wood dust that can be explosive

  • Fine cutting and sanding produces wood of a fine particle size
  • Sawing and machining hardwoods produces
  • The processing of MDF, chipboard and similar boards by machining and sawing
  • Machining and sawing softwoods where fine dust separates and accumulates in confined spaces
  • Profiling and moulding components on routers, spindle moulders, etc

Local Exhaust Ventilation (LEV) and Wood Waste

A common way for businesses to control dusts is by using LEV, often called extraction or fume control. LEV protects everyone in the workplace, whilst respiratory protection equipment (RPE) only protects the person wearing it.

All LEV systems work in the same way by capturing and extracting contaminated air away from cutting, shaping and sanding wood either by hand or machine at source, before they can be breathed in, and transporting them safely away to an emission point and to a filter/scrubber.

The woodworking industry is unusual in that often LEV extracts from different combinations of machines at different times. LEV systems may look simple but there’s a lot more to them than a fan and some ducting. Capturing both fine wood dust and larger/heavier chips and shavings needs to be understood. It is critical that your LEV is the right specification and to get the best from your LEV you must understand:

  • The particular requirements of LEV systems in woodworking
  • The basic design principles
  • How to check your LEV is working properly

Introducing LEV

Buying the right LEV equipment is a critical step. Many employers buy LEV equipment to find that it doesn't work. That's because the wrong type has been purchased or because it hasn't been installed or maintained properly.

To help you avoid expensive mistakes and to ensure you are controlling exposures effectively; we can offer site surveys, advice on produce specification and selection, training, and on-going service and maintenance.


Site Surveys
To ensure that you choose the right LEV solution for your workplace and/or application, you can arrange for one of our safety experts to conduct a site survey.

Product Specification and Selection
The majority of applications are workplace specific. We partner with leading LEV manufacturers and installation teams and through our site surveys, we can recommend the best product solutions tailored to your workplace and application needs. Contact us on: 01482 383288.

It is vital to ensure that all operators and supervisors understand how LEV works and receive adequate training in the correct use. Training records must be kept up to date to show this. We can provide advice and surveys to assist you in choosing the right LEV product to keep you and your employees safe. Contact us on: 01482 383288.

Service and Maintenance
It is a legal requirement that employers thoroughly test and inspect their LEV systems, according to Regulation 9 of the COSHH Regulations every 14 months via a "thorough examination and test" (TExT) to ensure good working order and provides the necessary protection.

Consisting of a visual inspection, examination and testing of technical performance and checking the system is fit for its intended purpose, Arco Professional Safety Services can provide an LEV testing and inspection service and supply a report and recommendations on the findings. Contact us for more information.

Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE)

Health and safety regulations stipulate that you should only consider Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE) after all other reasonably practicable measures to eliminate or control exposure have been introduced. RPE is no substitute for controlling dust at source and should only be used as a temporary measure or for short term projects.

  1. Identify whether RPE is necessary through a risk assessment, it is a key protective measure when it comes to protecting employees from hazardous airborne dust
  2. Select and supply the right RPE. All RPE has an assigned protection factor (APF) that indicates how much protection it can provide to the user. Wood dust generally requires an APF 20 which means the wearer only breathes in one twentieth of the amount of dust in the air. There are three types of RPE recommendations to consider when working with wood dust: disposable masks, half masks and powered masks
  3. Ensure that RPE is being used in the correct way and implement a respiratory management programme

Disposable Masks

As a minimum, woodworkers should be using RPE with an FFP3 particulate filter. Disposable masks are available with different protection factors and it is recommended that a protection factor of at least 20 is specified. All users would require a face fit test.


  • Lightweight and low profile
  • Ideal for short duration and infrequent tasks
  • Cost effective in the short term


  • Not suitable for those with facial hair affecting the seal
  • Can become costly in the long run
  • Can generate a high amount of waste as can only be used once
Disposable Masks

Half Masks

Half masks like Sundstrom SR 100 cover the nose, mouth and chin allowing air to pass into the mask through either a filter or drawing air from another source, such as a compressor through the inhalation valve. Ensure the right particulate (P3) filter has been selected for working with wood dust. All users would require a face fit test.


  • Generally more comfortable for the wearer than disposables
  • Reusable
  • Replaceable filters result in lower running costs


  • Not suitable for those with facial hair affecting the seal
  • Servicing and maintenance costs
Half Masks

Powered Air Purifying Respirators (PAPR)

Powered air systems like Sundstrom SR 700 provide extensive protection from wood dust, creating an air flow inside either a tight fitting facepiece or loose-fitting hood. Face fit testing is required for tight-fitting facepieces.


  • Higher level of protection recommended for tasks with a longer duration or frequent use
  • For those with facial hair, loose fitting hoods can be worn
  • Reusable components and replaceable filters result in lower running costs


  • More expensive initially
  • Servicing and maintenance costs
  • Bulkier than other RPE
Powered Masks

Respiratory Management Programme

Respiratory Protection Equipment (RPE) is widely selected as a protection measure after the hierarchy of controls have been followed and the hazard remains. Unfortunately, up to 50% of respirators fail to offer the assumed protection level, therefore it is essential that an effective Respiratory Management Programme is implemented to help protect people at work.

There are three key elements to implementing an effective Respiratory Management Programme:

  1. Correct product selection and training in the use of (RPE)
  2. Face Fit Testing by competent Fit2Fit approved specialists
  3. Ongoing equipment maintenance of RPE and record keeping

Correct Product Selection and Training In The Use of (RPE)

Employers should ensure their employees are issued with adequate RPE to control the hazards relating to their tasks and unique working environment and be trained in wearing and using it.

We can support you in selecting the right products for your needs and advise you on the training your employees require, whether that's a tailor-made learning package or one of our standard courses.

Did you know - We offer powered respiratory on contract hire. With typical contracts of three or five years, pay monthly for the purchase of your RPE equipment and the associated servicing of it.

RPE Selection

Face Fit Testing by Competent Fit2Fit Approved Specialists

Wearers of tight-fitting or close-fitting RPE must receive a face fit test for each variety of masks they wear, to ensure it fits correctly and achieves the tight seal required to provide protection. Ideally, this should be carried out at the mask selection stage and repeated every two years or sooner depending on the risks, if the wearers facial features change or if switching to a new mask manufacturer or model. Our team of Fit2Fit technicians can carry out Face Fit Testing throughout the UK and also deliver Fit2Fit approved training courses on Qualitative Face Fit Testing.

Did you know - We have one of the largest teams of mobile RPE technicians available to undertake BSIF Fit2Fit accredited face fit testing across the UK, at either one of our safety centres, a customer’s site, in select safety stores with a Portacount machine or in our mobile training units.

Face Fit Testing

Ongoing Equipment Maintenance of RPE and Record Keeping

Poorly maintained respiratory equipment may not offer the assumed level of protection to the wearer, so workers need to be trained how to correctly use and wear it, how to clean and maintain it to industry standards, and when it should be replaced. We can train you to conduct your own monthly COSHH inspections or undertake them for you as part of our Managed Services package. We carry out required manufacturers servicing to ensure your equipment is maintained correctly to provide adequate protection and you should ensure valid records are available for inspection if required.

Did you know - As the sole provider delivering the Sundstrom annual service diagnostic for powered respirators, we offer a continued warranty extension (for powered unit, fan & motor) up to 2,500 hours if serviced annually. With the right fit, training and maintenance, the risk of workers developing deadly respiratory diseases can be reduced or eliminated.


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