Stay Safe around Wood Dust

Wood has natural chemicals and may contain bacteria, molds or fungi. The International Agency for Research on Cancer considers wood dust a carcinogenic.

Stay Safe around Wood Dust

Exposure to wood dust can cause health problems for workers. Wood has natural chemicals and may contain bacteria, molds or fungi, according to the Canadian Center for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS).

The International Agency for Research on Cancer considers wood dust a carcinogenic, meaning it can cause cancer. Strong and consistent associations with cancers of the paranasal sinuses and nasal cavity have been observed both in studies of people whose occupations were associated with wood-dust exposure and in studies that directly estimated wood-dust exposure.

Occupations that have an increased risk of exposure to wood dust include construction workers; carpenters; and workers employed in furniture and cabinet making, sawmills, and logging.

Health concerns

CCOHS says on-the-job exposure to wood dust may cause the following health issues:

Irritation - Wood dust can be irritating to a worker's eyes, nose and throat, and may result in shortness of breath, runny nose and inflammation of the mucous membrane of the eye.

Skin problems - Wood dust exposure may lead to dermatitis, in which the skin becomes red, itchy and dry. Skin blisters also may form.

Respiratory issues - Workers who breathe in wood dust may experience a number of respiratory issues, including occupational asthma and tightness of the chest. These issues may worsen with continued exposure.

Chemical concerns - "Toxic effects are specific to the species of wood," CCOHS states. "When the body absorbs the chemical, the chemical may cause headaches, loss of weight, breathlessness, giddiness, cramps and irregular heartbeat."

Staying safe

Exposures can be reduced through design and engineering modifications, such as installing an exhaust ventilation system with collectors placed at points where dust is produced. Personal protective equipment, such as respirators, is another short-term solution for reducing exposure. In addition, employers should ensure workers are educated on how to work safely around wood dust. CCOHS also recommends the following measures to protect against wood dust exposure, :

  • Knowing what type of wood you'll be working with and all the hazards associated with that specific type.
  • Keeping tools and blades sharp and in good working order. Dull tools can cause more dust to be released into the air.
  • Vacuuming work areas with a vacuum that has a HEPA filter, and using wet clean-up methods.
  • Wearing respiratory protection when necessary and protective clothing, and practicing good hygiene by regularly washing your hands and face.
  • Avoiding dust accumulation to help prevent combustible dust explosions.

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