Wood Dust Hazards in the Workplace: Identifying and Mitigating Risks 

09/05/2024by admin0Read: 6 minutes

Woodworking is a fundamental part of various industries in Australia, ranging from construction and manufacturing to furniture production and renovation projects. While the beauty and versatility of wood are undeniable, it’s important to recognise the potential health risks associated with wood dust in the workplace. Wood dust, generated during common woodworking processes, poses significant hazards to workers if not properly managed.

In this blog post, we will delve into the subject of wood dust hazards in the Australian workplace and explore the importance of identifying and mitigating these risks. Whether you are an employer, safety professional, or employee, understanding the potential dangers and implementing effective control measures is crucial to safeguarding workers’ health.

Wood Dust

Wood dust is a common byproduct in many Australian businesses and organisations that handle products involving woodworking, carpentry, sawmilling, and cabinetry. Prolonged exposure to wood dust can cause health problems like respiratory disorders, skin issues, disability, or even lead cancer.

As such, it’s important for Australian businesses and organisations to understand the various wood dust hazards, implement strategies to mitigate them and safeguard the health and safety of workers. This in turn will improve the business process and reputation in the market.

Workplace Activities that Cause Wood Dust Exposure

The following activities are likely to cause high dust exposures:

  1. sawing and cutting
  2. routing and turning
  3. sanding
  4. dry sweeping of dust
  5. use of compressed air
  6. bagging dust from dust extraction systems.

Wood Dust Hazards:

The harmful effects of wood dust are not only limited to respiratory disorders but can also include the following:

– Eye irritation

– Skin irritation

– Allergic reactions

– Nasal cancer

– Asthma or worsening of pre-existing asthma

– Chronic bronchitis

Businesses and Organisations at Risk of Wood Dust:

Some common industries that generate wood dust in Australia are:

  1. Carpentry and joinery works
  2. Furniture production
  3. Sawmilling and wood planning
  4. Cabinet making and shopfitting
  5. Timber flooring installation

All these industries are a part of construction business processes and hence affect this industry too.

PCBU’s or Employer’s Responsibilities

According to Section 19 of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1984, employers are responsible for creating and maintaining a workplace free from dangers.

PCBUs have a duty to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety of their workers and other workers whose activities they influence or direct.

Employers, main contractors, and self-employed individuals are required by Regulations 3.38 and 3.39 of the Occupational Safety and Health Regulations 1996 to: identify toxic atmosphere hazards; assess the risk of injury or harm; and consider reducing the risk by using (a) an efficient ventilation system; (b) an exhaust system that extracts contaminants; or (c) any other method to prevent a person from being exposed.

Compliance with workplace exposure regulations is mandated by Regulation 5.19.

The law also mandates consultation between businesses and workers to address workplace safety and health problems. PCBUs have a duty to monitor the health of workers and the conditions at the workplace to ensure that workers are not injured or made ill by their work.

If an employee has health-related concerns, they should discuss them with their employer or, if one exists, with the safety and health representative.

PCBUs should eliminate risks so far as is reasonably practicable and where this is not possible, they should minimise them.

Employees’ Duties

Employees are required under Section 20 of the Act to take reasonable care of their own safety and health and to refrain from endangering the safety and health of others. Employees are required to wear the specified protective equipment, follow all safety instructions to the best of their ability, and report any workplace accidents or dangers.

Duties of Manufacturers, Importers and Sellers

Manufacturers, sellers, and importers of substances for use at a workplace are required by Section 23 of the Act to give sufficient information on the drug’s safe use, both at the time the substance is delivered and upon request.

Duties Of Suppliers of Wood Products – Product Specifications

The design and production of engineered wood products must ensure their safety for the intended usage.

Formaldehyde emissions must not be more than those allowed by the applicable Australian/New Zealand Standard, for instance:

  1. AS/NZS 1859.2 Reconstituted wood-based products – specifications – Dry processed fibreboard.

For ultralow density, low density, medium density, and high-density dry-processed fibreboards, formaldehyde emission values are specified in this standard.

2. AS/NZS 4357.0 Structural laminated veneer lumber – specifications.

This standard comprises formaldehyde emission classes and offers criteria for LVL meant for structural usage.

Duties Of Suppliers of Wood ProductsInformation to be Provided

Manufacturers or suppliers of wood goods must make sure that workers using the items at their workplaces have access to sufficient information on the risks associated with the product and suggestions for safe usage. A material safety data sheet (MSDS), often known as a safety data sheet (SDS), may contain this information. It is important to give details on compliance with applicable Australian Standards.

Steps to Identify Wood Dust Hazards:

To detect wood dust hazards, companies and organisations can follow these steps:

  1. Examine the workplace carefully to locate any locations where wood dust is produced.
  2. Determine the volume and properties of wood dust generated by various tasks.
  3. Examine the ventilation system, gauging the airflow and filters.
  4. Inform staff members of the health hazards of exposure to wood dust.

Mitigation of Risks:

Companies may protect their workers from hazardous exposure to wood dust while maintaining a work environment that complies with Australian safety regulations by employing the proper control measures.

1) Implement Proper Ventilation:

Ensure both local exhaust ventilation (LEV) systems are installed at woodworking equipment sources and general ventilation improvements are made.

2) Workstation Modifications:

Modify machines’ design or rearrange workstations to limit manual handling and emission of wood dust.

3) Dust Collection Systems:

Install high-quality dust collectors to remove the wood dust produced at the source. Regular maintenance of dust collection systems is essential to ensure they function efficiently.

4) Provide Personal Protective Equipment (PPE):

Supply employees with appropriate PPE, such as masks, gloves, and goggles, to protect against wood dust exposure. Conduct proper training on PPE usage.

5) Implement Good Housekeeping Practices:

Regular cleaning of the workspace, especially floors and surfaces where wood dust may accumulate, can help reduce exposure. Use vacuum cleaners with HEPA filters, instead of sweeping, which can re-suspend settled wood dust into the air.

6) Employee Training and Awareness:

Educate employees on the potential hazards associated with wood dust exposure and encourage open communication about identifying potential risks in the workplace.

7) Monitor Air Quality: 

Continuously monitor air quality and conduct periodic wood dust sampling to ensure compliance with Australian safety standards.

Exposure Monitoring 

If you’re unsure if the dust levels are harmful, exposure monitoring should be carried out.

Exposure monitoring should be done by occupational hygienists or another adequately trained professional.

With the help of this monitoring, the best respiratory protection for workers and wood dust reduction methods will be identified. Exposure monitoring should be used often to assess the effectiveness of controls. If the controls aren’t working, speak with an LEV engineer or a health expert in the workplace.

8) Medical Surveillance: 

Include regular health check-ups in workplace safety programs for early identification of symptoms of exposure to wood dust.

Perform Health Monitoring

Health monitoring looks for early indications of illness or disease in order to determine whether employees are becoming unwell as a result of occupational risks. Health monitoring can also demonstrate the efficacy of control methods.

You should set up health monitoring for workers in situations where they are frequently exposed to wood dust. Lung function tests at baseline and subsequently annually, as well as a respiratory questionnaire, should be used for monitoring.

When deciding what kind of health monitoring is necessary, heed the advice of an occupational health professional with experience in health monitoring.

Tips for Organisations to Minimise Wood Dust and Employee Exposure 

  1. Purchase pre-cut or processed wood products to reduce risk.
  2. Local exhaust ventilation (LEV) is one of the best strategies to manage dust at the source. Utilise LEV systems to collect dust produced by hand or machine sanding, shaping, and cutting wood.
  3. Apply on-tool extraction while using grinders and saws to stop wood dust in its tracks.
  4. For information on how to operate and maintain a piece of equipment, consult the manufacturer’s instructions. Use the appropriate saw or planer, for instance, for the job.
  5. When possible, use water-damping techniques.
  6. Avoid moving wood dust with blowers, fans, or compressed air.
  7. Provide a sufficient industrial vacuum to clear the air of dust in the workspace.
  8. Limit the amount of time each worker spends performing dusty work to reduce worker exposure.
  9. When emptying vacuum cleaner bags or collecting bags, advise employees to use respiratory protection equipment (RPE) because there is a significant risk of exposure to wood dust.
  10. Ensure that employees are wearing RPE and other PPE that is appropriate for the task. To prevent creating dust clouds, instruct employees to thoroughly remove their work attire, such as overalls, at the end of each activity or shift.
  11. Provide washing facilities on-site to prevent dust from being brought home.
  12. Remind employees to wash their hands and faces right away after finishing a task and before consuming food, liquids, or tobacco.

Besides, businesses need to apply all the control measures as per the hierarchy of controls as per the regulation.

For information on Control Measures for Wood Dust Exposure, stay tuned to the Anitech website.


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