If your business operates woodworking machinery, then some of the increased health and safety and insurance risks are obvious – such as using powerful machinery and razor-sharp cutters.
However, just as significant, but perhaps less obvious, is the risk of explosion or fire due to wood dust – which can result in significant injury to employees and claims under your Business Insurance policy.
What Is Wood Dust?
Wood dust is a by-product of several different woodworking processes; dust particles can vary in size and volume depending on the type and hardness of the wood and the sharpness of the cutter.
Without proper training education and health and safety risk management, your business could be endangering the lives of your employees and the financial existence of your business.
What Are The Key Wood Dust Risks
Wood dust is an insidious risk. Dust particles are almost undetectable by the naked eye, wood dust still presents substantial health, safety, fire and explosion risks to you and your employees.
Wood dust can be extremely explosive and igniting only one small portion of a wood dust cloud can cause the entire thing to erupt into flames, potentially setting fire to every single piece of loose wood dust floating in the air.
If this dust cloud is confined to an enclosed area, the pressure from the ignition can mount, reaching critical mass, potentially causing a disastrous explosion. Any unswept dust resting on floors or machinery can be just as flammable, and can ignite on its own or catch fire from a dust cloud fire. The fire can spread from the ground to the air and vice versa, quickly overtaking an entire space with flames.
Employee Health Risks
In addition to the serious risk of explosion or fire, woodworking employees can also develop several long-term, irreversible health problems through exposure to wood dust, including skin disorders, rhinitis, asthma and a rare type of nasal cancer.
If employees suffer injury as a direct result of their employment, you are likely to face significant, and potentially multiple, claims under the Employers Liability section of your Business Insurance policy.
What Causes Wood Dust?
The risks emanating from wood dust exposure can be controlled with the right training, health and safety processes and infrastructure. To design an effective dust-reduction plan, you must first be aware which business processes create dust exposure. The following list contains the woodworking activities that typically generate the most amount of wood dust:
- Machining operations, especially sawing, routing and turning
- Sanding by machine and by hand
- Using compressed airlines to blow dust
- Assembling machined or sanded parts by hand
- Collecting dust from dust extraction systems
How To Control Wood Dust Risks
As the business owner of a woodworking business or other manufacturing operation which involves woodworking you are legally obligated to address any activities that produce wood dust. As wood dust is classified as a substance hazardous to health under the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations (COSHH).
Best practice is to undertake a comprehensive risk assessment for your business, identifying where risk exists and outlining the appropriate measures and controls to manage exposure effectively.
According to the COSHH, if it is not reasonably practicable to prevent exposure to a hazardous substance like wood dust, as it forms part of normal business operation. However it is the control of that exposure that should be effectively managed and tested:
- Apply the principles of good practice to control exposure. These principles include providing suitable personal protective equipment, among other precautions. The full list is included in the COSHH, which you can download for free at www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/books/l5.htm
- Do not exceed any workplace exposure limit (WEL). This means ensuring there is no more than an average of 5 mg/m3 of wood dust in the air during an eight-hour day.
- Reduce the exposure level of substances that can cause cancer or occupational asthma to as low a level as reasonably practicable (ALARP). Even if your workplace improvements have reduced wood dust exposure to below the WEL, you must continue to implement improvements that lower the exposure level if it is reasonably practicable to do so.
Collecting Wood Dust and Waste
The very nature of wood dust explosions and fires —which can be ignited by anything from naked flames to faulty electronics to impact sparks—necessitate the need for dust collection systems that physically remove the wood dust from your machinery. Dust collection systems help to lower the fire risk and any potential damage. These dust collection systems are called local exhaust ventilation (LEV). The three main types of LEV are:
- An isolated LEV that funnels wood waste from one or several machines and stores it in a nearby collection unit within the workshop.
- An LEV connected to most, if not all, of the woodworking machines that sends wood waste to a distant collection unit located inside or outside the workshop.
- A ‘through-flow’ system that ventilates wood waste from one or more woodworking machines to nearby collection units which then send the waste to a larger collection unit, usually located outside the workshop.
The individual units that collect wood waste as part of a larger LEV are called ‘collection units’. They should ideally be sited outside, away from the workshop. If this is not possible when planning your LEV infrastructure, you must take several precautions that depend on the collector’s size, the number of people nearby, the presence of combustible materials and more. Collection units come in all shapes and sizes, but the following six types are the most popular:
- Unenclosed fabric filter sock collector
- Unenclosed fabric multi-sock collector
- Enclosed fabric single-sock collector
- Enclosed fabric multi-sock collector
- Bin or hopper
Details about each collection unit can be found at www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/wis32.pdf
FREE Insurance Review
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