Wood dust

What you need to know

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. The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations 2002 require that you protect workers from the hazards of wood dust.
Hardwood dust can cause cancer, particularly of the nose.

Settled dust contains the fine particles that are most likely to damage the lungs.

What you need to do

Exposure limits

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:

Extraction

Provide dust extraction (also known as local exhaust ventilation or LEV) at woodworking machines to capture and remove dust before it can spread.
Design the extraction system to take into account:

Details of how to fit effective extraction to a circular saw bench can be seen in
Control of wood dust at circular saws. This video also demonstrates how to use a dust lamp effectively to show whether wood dust exposure is being controlled.  These techniques can be applied to other woodworking machines.

Educate workers about the risks from wood dust and the control measures required. They should know how to use the extraction properly. Fitting air flow indicators will help, as these will show them if it is working correctly, for example if dampers are open or shut and also if maintenance is required.

Keep the extraction system properly maintained and working correctly (it is a legal requirement to have it examined by a competent person at least every 14 months). Follow the extraction manufacturer's guidance for maintenance requirements.

Never sweep up or use compressed air lines as this will disturb the dust and allow it to become inhaled. Always clean up using a suitable industrial vacuum cleaner that at least meets the Class M classification.

For very dusty jobs such as sanding, additional protection may be needed and a suitable face mask should be worn as well as using the extraction.

Where you need to use RPE you should:

Health surveillance

As breathing in wood dust can cause asthma, it is important for businesses to identify any health effects early. This can be done by having a suitable health surveillance programme in place.

Businesses should seek advice from an occupational health professional (doctor or nurse) who has the relevant skills, competence and experience for health risks in woodworking. Your health surveillance programme should cover all of your workers who might breathe in wood dust.

an annual respiratory questionnaire and keeping a health record may be adequate.  Your responsible person could administer the questionnaire, for example: Sample questionnaire (follow-up). You should always consult with your occupational health professional when making these decisions.

Find out more

Woodworking information sheets

Updated 2022-05-11