What is wood dust?

Wood dust is a hazardous substance if breathed in, particularly over time. It can cause asthma, which woodworking professionals (such as carpenters and joiners) are four times as likely to get versus those in other professions.

Depending on the type of wood being worked with, other health problems can develop, too. Wood is also a natural product, so the dust can contain bacteria and fungal or moss spores.

For those where it is unavoidable to work with wood, prevention of inhalation is critical. Using a mixture of PPE and dust control equipment is vital, as well as setting up the working environment efficiently and safely.




Types of wood dust

The quantity of the wood dust and the type produced depends on the material you're using, and the tools you're using. Types of wood popularly used on sites include:

  • Hardwood
  • Softwood
  • Composite board (chipboards, fibre boards etc).

Dust from the above can cause asthma, dermatitis, and eye, nose, and throat irritation. Hardwood dust can also cause sino-nasal cancer, and settled wood dust particles can damage the lungs, leading to illnesses such as COPD and fibrosis.

Wood dust isn't just a health hazard; it's flammable and can cause a fire under the correct conditions. Settled dust can also be a slip hazard.


How is wood dust created?

Wood dust comes from cutting or sanding a range of wooden materials. This can be anything from cutting doors and skirting to size in a home environment to cutting and assembling timber frames on a building site.

Such activities can include:

  • sanding and smoothing wood or rough edges by hand or machine
  • using a planer to shave wood
  • using a saw to cut wood to size
  • routing or turning wood.

Disturbing wood dust created from these activities before fixing or painting the wood, for example, can make them airborne. Dry sweeping dust should be avoided.

Even drilling into wood can create small amounts of dust. While these may not be harmful in small quantities, prolonged exposure over many years can be detrimental.


Wood dust exposure

The workplace exposure limit (WEL) for hardwood dust is 3 mg/m3, whilst that for softwood dust is 5 mg/m3 (both based on 8-hour time-weighted averages).

However, as with other dusts caused by manufacturing, exposure levels should be reduced to "as low a level as reasonably practicable" (ALARP). This is particularly important when working with occupational cancer or asthma substances.

So, even if the steps in place reduce wood dust exposure levels to below the WEL, further steps should be taken, if possible and achievable, to lower exposure as much as possible.


How to control wood dust exposure

The easiest and most efficient way to control dust is at the source. Local exhaust ventilation (LEV) will capture the dust before it becomes airborne.

Speedy offers dust management units from brands such as Husqvarna and DustControl, which can be connected straight to the power tool used.




All our equipment is maintained and examined after every hire period, so when you hire dust management, it is in line with the legal requirement to keep it maintained and working correctly at least every 14 months.

Avoid dry sweeping dust. This causes a disturbance, which makes it airborne. Clean any settled dust with a suitable industrial vacuum cleaner.

You must always wear PPE and RPE when working with potential dust hazards.


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