HSE enforcement at woodworking premises for employers failing to control exposure to wood dust remains at a high level. A fencing manufacturer was recently prosecuted for not having local exhaust ventilation (LEV) thoroughly examined within the last 14 months. This was despite having being made to do so by an Improvement Notice in 2007. The system also had labels on it clearly stating when the next examination was due. At the hearing on 19th November, the two partners both pleaded guilty and fines and costs came to a total of £4214.10.
The HSE takes a strong line where there is exposure to wood dust as it can cause serious health problems. It can be a cause of asthma and carpenters and joiners are four times more likely to get it compared with other UK workers. Hardwood dust can also cause cancer, particularly of the nose.
Exposure to wood dust must be kept as far below the 5mg/m3 Workplace Exposure Limit (WEL) as possible. The best means of achieving this is by having well designed and maintained LEV.
It is a legal requirement to have LEV systems examined by a competent person at least every 14 months to make sure that it is still working properly. Unfortunately, when HSE Inspectors go to woodworking premises they often find that the examination has not taken place.
In addition to the prosecution, so far this year there has been also a Prohibition Notice and 39 Improvement Notices issued to woodworking duty holders for failing to have their LEV system examined. Last year there were a total of 71 Improvement Notices issued for this.