Construction dust: Cutting and sanding wood
Cutting and sanding wood with power tools can produce significant levels of dust. Effective control is necessary because this work can be high risk. This page tells you how to control the risk and why. You also need to be aware of the general information on construction dust.
What you must do
Follow the Assess, Control and Review model. Pay particular attention to the following things:
Identify and assess: Cutting or sanding wood with power tools can produce significant levels of wood dust. These levels can be very high in some circumstances, eg using a belt sander. Anyone breathing in the dust cloud will be affected. Those doing the work are particularly at risk. Follow the control steps below.
Prevent: Think about limiting the risks before work starts by:
- using wood types known to be less toxic. Some types are more hazardous than others
- ordering pre-cut materials
- using dedicated work areas to minimise the spread of wood dust
- using 'pre-finished' materials
Control: Even if you minimise some of the dust this way, you may still need to work on wood with power tools. Control the risk by:
- On-tool extraction – use specially adapted equipment with on-tool extraction. Select an H or M class extraction unit. Make sure the extraction flow rate is right for the work. Hoses should be suitable for wood dust (ie antistatic). Connections should be tight fitting and secure without obvious leaks.
- Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE) – you are likely to need RPE in most cases when sanding or if you are cutting wood for longer periods (ie 15-30 minutes total trigger time over the day) – particularly in enclosed spaces. RPE with a minimum assigned protection factor of 20 – for example FFP3, will be required for most cutting and sanding operations – particularly in enclosed spaces. If RPE is required for high work rate activities or extended wear times then powered RPE may be more suitable. Fit testing is needed for tight fitting masks. There is further information on RPE for protection against wood dust is available.
Supervise: Ensure controls are properly used and RPE is worn correctly. Anyone using tight fitting masks also needs to be clean-shaven and face-fit tested.
Maintain: Regularly look for signs of damage to the hood, hoses or extraction unit – pay particular attention to filters, extraction rates and warning devices. Someone competent should examine any dust extraction equipment thoroughly and test its performance at least once every 14 months.
Monitor: Decide if you need a health surveillance programme. Wood dust causes asthma and any health effects must be picked up early. For most woods, low level health surveillance will do. This could be an initial questionnaire and follow up questionnaires at appropriate intervals. A higher level of health surveillance is needed for exposures to woods that are known asthmagens such as western red cedar. This includes lung function testing.
What you should know
This work may involve a number of quick cuts or short-duration sanding. That does not mean it is low risk. Wood dust can cause serious health problems. Carpenters and joiners are four times more likely to get asthma compared with other UK workers. This means the controls need to be effective and wood dust exposures need to be controlled to levels as low as is reasonably practicable.
The videos below show the significant reduction you can achieve by using on-tool extraction compared to no control at source. The graphs in both video clips show respirable wood dust levels. The total amount of wood dust in the air could be around double that shown. RPE is not always needed for this work. It was used while filming as an example of good practice. Consider using a mask where this work is ongoing for 15-30 minutes 'trigger time' over the day.
Watch another video to see the high levels of wood dust that you can get from some other common woodworking tasks.