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Health and Safety Executive to target woodworking businesses

It must have occurred to anyone running a sheet of plywood across a table saw in the garage that all this sawdust has got to be quite unhealthy. 

It’s certainly occurred to the Health and Safety Executive who claim that many woodworking businesses are endangering workers’ lives by failing to prevent their exposure to wood dust. 

man in black sweatpants using DEWALT circular saw and cutting a wood plank

Supported by HSE’s Dust Kills campaign, which provides free advice to businesses and workers on the control measures required to prevent exposure to dust, HSE inspectors across Great Britain will be spending the summer visiting businesses within woodworking industries such as sawmilling, manufacture of composite boards, and carpentry, focusing on dust control, checking employers and workers know the risks, plan their work, and are using the right controls.

The HSE  point out that every year there are thousands of preventable cases of irreversible lung disease due to past exposure to dust at work. These diseases often have a life-changing impact and can result in an early death.

Throughout this year and into next, inspectors will be looking for evidence that employers have considered the control measures required to reduce workers exposure to wood dust and that workers understand the risks of exposure to wood dust, taking enforcement action where deemed necessary.

In 2022/23, HSE carried out more than 1,000 woodworking inspections and found 78% of businesses were not compliant in protecting workers from wood dust, resulting in  402 enforcement actions. Most of these actions related to the provision of suitable RPE (Respiratory Protective Equipment)  and LEV (Local Exhaust Ventilation).

HSE’s head of manufacturing David Butter said: ‘Around 12,000 workers died last year from lung diseases linked to past exposure from work, and there are an estimated 19,000 new cases of breathing and lung problems each year, where individuals regarded their condition as being caused or made worse by work.

‘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, as well as sino-nasal cancer. Our campaign aims to help businesses whose workers cut and shape wood to take action now to protect their workers’ respiratory health.’

HSE’s chief inspector of construction, Michael Thomas, added: ‘Through  engaging with those on site, we can make sure they have considered the job from start to finish, have considered the risks at each stage, and are managing the risks with effective measures in line with the broad hierarchy of control options such as water suppression, extraction, and as a last resort RPE.’

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