COSHH and woodworkers - key messages

Substances hazardous to health in woodworking include:

  • hardwood and softwood dust;
  • dusts from hardboard, plywood, MDF, timber laminates etc;
  • adhesives, paints, stains, varnishes, stripping fluids etc;
  • lubricants;
  • disinfectants to treat water systems.

Cleaning can give rise to high levels of wood dust in air.

Control measures include:

  • dust extraction;
  • respirators;
  • skin checks;

Example: wood dust.

Both hardwood and softwood dusts have a Workplace Exposure Limit (WEL) which must not be exceeded.

The WEL for hardwood dust is 3mg/m3 (based on an 8-hour time-weighted average).

The WEL for softwood dust is 5mg/m3 (based on an 8-hour time-weighted average).

For mixtures of hardwood and softwood dusts the WEL for hardwood dust of 3mg/m3 applies to all wood dusts present in that mixture.

Adequate control of wood dust is achieved when:
a) The eight principles of good control practice are applied as set out in Schedule 2A of COSHH;
b) Exposure is below the relevant WEL; and
c) Exposure is reduced to as low a level as is reasonably practicable.

You normally need to use health surveillance (Check employees health for any adverse effects related to work. May involve checking skin for dermatitis or asking questions about breathing and may need to be done by a doctor or nurse.)

Help with identifying the right control is available via the COSHH essentials direct advice sheets.

Visit the HSE Woodworking web pages for more information.


Your employer provides equipment to protect your health, such as

  • dust extraction;
  • personal protective equipment (eg respirator).

You have a duty to use these properly and co-operate with any monitoring and health.

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