HSE to inspect woodworking businesses to tackle occupational lung disease

Wood dust
Credit: AdobeStock/Seventyfour

Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspectors will be visiting businesses within woodworking industries across the UK to inspect measures to tackle respiratory risks from wood dust as part of its Dust Kills campaign.

The HSE’s Dust Kills campaign provides free advice to businesses and workers on the control measures required to prevent exposure to dust.

Woodworking industries have the potential for high incidence rates of occupational ill-health caused by worker exposure to inadequately controlled wood dust, such as sino-nasal cancer, occupational asthma and dermatitis.

Throughout 2023/24, inspectors will be looking for evidence that employers have considered the control measures required to reduce workers exposure to wood dust, that workers understand the risks of exposure to wood dust, and effective control measures have been put in place to protect workers from harm.

Inspectors will take enforcement action when necessary to make sure workers are protected.

The HSE found that 78% of businesses were not compliant in protecting workers from respiratory sensitisers (primarily dust from hardwoods, softwoods and composite materials such as MDF) in 2022/23.

The inspections in 2022/23 identified four main areas of concern, where businesses failed to adequately implement the control measures required to protect workers.

These were housekeeping (including dry sweeping of wood dust), Local Exhaust Ventilation (LEV) maintenance and thorough examination, selection of and face fit testing for Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE), and health surveillance for exposure to wood dust.

This resulted in 402 enforcement actions taken by HSE, highlighting particular areas of concern around provision and use of suitable RPE and LEV, as well as the administration of health surveillance.

David Butter, head of manufacturing at the HSE, 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.”

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