Health Risks of Wood Working in a School Environment

Hazards of wood dust in a design technology department

Exposure to wood dust over a career as a DT teacher is leaving many with long term incurable diseases such as Asthma, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), Emphysema and lung or throat cancer.

Workplace Exposure Limits (WEL’s) for softwoods and hardwoods were tightened back in 2020 to 5 and 3mg/m3. Fortunately, hardwoods are rarely used at a school because they are expensive and tend to blunt machining tools. Hardwood is now recognised as a class 1 carcinogen.

The news of the official declaration has slowly been reaching all insurance companies that all schools and colleges could be breaking the law by exposing their employers an children to lethal carcinogens.

The familiar smell of freshly cut or sanded wood is quite literally captured and bottled as an ingredient in men’s fragrances. For many adults, it evokes childhood memories of the home workshop with dad. But to a DT teacher, it may be a health hazard.

The wood dust that floats off cutting and sanding machines does not belong in lungs. It may smell good, but wood dust causes malicious damage to our respiratory system. Wood shavings from a lathe or planer succumb to gravity and are guilty of nothing more than making a mess,

Small particles of wood dust can make us cough, but relatively speaking a cough is good news. Very tiny bits of dust wont make us cough but with that, they will penetrate deep into the lungs and cause damage in the mucous membranes of the alveoli.

Most modern wood working machines have provision to extract wood dust, however, new machines are expensive. The 1950’s versions, which function ‘perfectly well’, are used in schools everyday.

A very ordinary school in England is making attempts to be a responsible employer and educating themselves in being aware of their duty of care to pupils and teachers.

On the surface the school is ticking all the boxes for safe woodwork. Dust extraction hoses have been fitted to almost every wood working machine. Each being connected to an industrial strength vacuum dust collector.

Even though the school had taken these safety precautions, the outcome of years of working with wood dust with next to no protective measures, resulted in some staff having to resign or take early retirement due to respiratory illnesses.

Results found that pupils and teachers were breathing in 4 times the legal limit of wood dust.

The main culprit is a band facer sanding machine which was almost 12 years old which had a convenient on tool extraction.

The extraction was still being turned on with every use as a standard, but the issue was that the extraction wasnt working. Although extraction may be fitted, without it being installed and tested by an expert regularly, the extraction becomes nothing more than a visual fitting to the tools.

Read more here on how we can help with LEV design services

Contact us

Our dedicated team will be happy to help with any of your extraction and ventilation requirements.