Health, Safety & Environment Consultants

Managing Ill Health Associated with Wood Dust


Many businesses work with wood, be it cutting timbre building materials, or composite boards such as medium-density fibreboard (MDF). MDF poses a particular risk due to how it is made. Fibreboard uses a formaldehyde agent to bond the fibreboard together.


Wood dust can pose a serious hazard to workers, especially those machining wood. Breathing in and touching wood particles can cause a number of ill health effects.


What are the ill health effects of wood dust?

  • Nasal cancer
  • Irritation to eyes, nose and throat
  • Dermatitis
  • Rhinitis
  • Asthma


How can we protect against the hazards associated with wood dust?

When looking at managing risk it is important to follow the hierarchy of control:

  1. Eliminate the Hazard

Always ask the question, does the wood need to be cut? If it does not, do not perform the activity.

  1. Substitute with less hazardous materials, processes, operations or equipment.

Can we substitute the wood for another less hazardous substance?

  1. Use engineering controls

When dust is created inside a woodworking shop, it is essential that a well designed and maintained extraction system is in place.

  1. Use safety signs, markings and warning devices and administrative controls

Ensure procedures are in place. Never sweep up or use compressed air lines as this will disturb the dust and allow it to become inhaled. Always clean up using a suitable industrial vacuum cleaner that at least meets the Class M classification.

Ensure Workplace Exposure Limits (WEL’s) are adhered to when cutting medium-density fibreboard (MDF), as fibreboard is bound together by a resin containing formaldehyde.

Carry out health surveillance for those working with wood dust and those who work in the vicinity where wood dust is being created. Low-risk health surveillance via an annual or 6 monthly questionnaire, is adequate for most woods. However where dealing with wood such as western red cedar, a higher level of surveillance including lung function test, will be necessary.

Educate the workforce on the dangers of working with wood dust and how to manage the risks of working with wood dust.

Ensure signage is posted showing the PPE required to work in the area.

  1. Use personal protective equipment (PPE).

Always wear gloves, overalls, eye protection, and appropriate respiratory protective equipment.


If you need help identifying your risks from wood dust, or putting in safe systems of work for working with wood, contact us to find out how we can help you: or 01843 6399711

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