Business advice following Health & Safety Executive (HSE) update on woodwork safety

Wed 23 Mar 2022
posted by Arco Professional Safety Services

Business advice following Health & Safety Executive (HSE) update on woodwork safety


From April 2022, woodworking businesses across the UK will be visited by HSE inspectors to ensure duty holders know the risks associated with woodworking and to inspect whether effective controls are in place to protect workers’ respiratory health.

To help businesses prepare, Arco, the UK’s leading safety company, is sharing expert advice, ahead of the Health and Safety Executive’s updates, to support employers with people involved in wood working.  

In January 2020, the HSE introduced new and revised workplace exposure limit guidance for 13 substances, including wood dust. Wood dust is a hazardous substance and inhaling the fine particles can develop into respiratory diseases, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and occupational asthmas. Settled dust contains the fine particles that are most likely to damage the lungs and hardwood dusts, such as oak, western red cedar and iroko, are carcinogens that can cause sinonasal cancer. 

In addition to the respiratory threat posed by wood dust, it is also a fire or explosion hazard. Unconfined wood dust can ignite and spread flames across a cloud in the air, while wood dust that is contained can build up pressure when ignited and lead to destructive explosions.

The serious health and safety threats demonstrate the essential need for appropriate controls and protective measures for woodworking environments. The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) guidelines sets out the legal requirements for organisations to protect their workers’ health from hazardous substances. Due to the health risks, wood dust is covered by COSHH and thus risk aversion controls are a legal requirement.

Kevin Williams, Respiratory Team Manager at Arco Professional Safety Services at Arco said: “The risk from wood dust should be minimised, ideally by using methods that do not generate wood dust or by removing it at source. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) should be issued as a last line of defence once all other control measures are in place.

“The HSE will expect to see a clear education and understanding of the control measures put in place by employers to protect workers from harm. It is also a legal requirement for all employees to receive appropriate training and supervision for any related equipment to ensure safety standards are implemented accordingly.

“Workers should also be encouraged to be involved in health and safety as they are often the best people to understand the risks and help find solutions.

“Through worker involvement you can act together to reduce accidents and ill health within the workplace, by paying attention to layout, worker movement and keeping workshops and storage areas tidy.”

Learn more about how you can make sure your workplace is safe and compliant by reading Arco’s expert guidance: