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Wood Dust

Wood dust becomes a potential health problem when wood particles from processes such as sanding and cutting become airborne. Breathing these particles may cause allergic respiratory symptoms, mucosal and non-allergic respiratory symptoms, and cancer. The extent of these hazards and the associated wood types have not been clearly established

OSHA Standards

Exposures to wood dust are addressed in specific standards for general industry. This section highlights OSHA standards, preambles to final rules (background to final rules), Federal Registers (rulers, proposed rules, and notices), and standard interpretations (official letters of interpretation of the standards) related to wood dust. Twenty-five states, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands have OSHA-approved State Plans and have adopted their own standards and enforcement policies. For the most part, these States adopt standards that are identical to Federal OSHA. However, some States have adopted different standards applicable to this topic or may have different enforcement policies.

General Industry (29 CFR 1910)

Federal Registers

  • Hazard Communication. Final Rules 59:6126-6184, (1994, February 9). Includes a number of minor changes and technical amendments to further clarify the requirements, and thereby help ensure full compliance and achieve protection for employees, it also contains a section on wood dust.

  • Search all available Federal Registers.

Directives

Standard Interpretations

Hazard Recognition

Wood dust has several hazards associated with exposure to it in the workplace. In general, exposure to excessive amounts is considered to have an irritant effect on eyes, nose and throat in addition to pulmonary function impairment and is considered a human carcinogen. Western red cedar dust has also been shown to cause asthma. Significant accumulations of fine particles of wood dust can also be a fire and explosion hazard in the workplace. The following web pages list different types of woods and provide information about each one and how they may affect humans.

Toxicity

  • Report on Carcinogens (RoC). US Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), National Toxicology Program (NTP). Identifies and discusses agents, substances, mixtures, or exposure circumstances that may pose a health hazard due to their carcinogenicity. The listing of substances in the RoC only indicates a potential hazard and does not establish the exposure conditions that would pose cancer risks to individuals.
    • Wood Dust [132 KB PDF, 3 pages] NTP classification: Known to be a human carcinogen
  • International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) Monographs on the Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risks for Humans [37 KB PDF, 8 pages]. World Health Organization (WHO). IARC Classification: Carcinogenic to humans (Group 1).

  • Wood Dust. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), (1989, January 19). OSHA comments from the January 19, 1989 Final Rule on Air Contaminants Project extracted from 54 FR 2332 et. seq. This rule was remanded by the US Circuit Court of Appeals and the limits are not currently in force, and contains data from animal studies and human epidemiological studies on the health effects of wood dust.

  • Particulates (Not Otherwise Regulated). National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), (1989, January 19). OSHA comments from the January 19, 1989 Final Rule on Air Contaminants Project extracted from 54 FR 2332 et. seq.

  • Toxic Woods [99 KB PDF, 4 pages]. Health and Safety Executive (HSE), (1997, October). Identifies health effects of wood exposures and precautions, and includes a table of woods and their effects.

  • Wood Dust and Occupational Asthma [132 KB PDF, 8 pages]. Occupational Health Surveillance and Evaluation Program (OHSEP), Occupational Health Branch, California Department of Health Services and Labor Occupational Health Program (LOHP), Center for Occupational and Environmental Health, School of Public Health, University of California, Berkeley, (2004, January).

Biological Hazards and Chemical Additives

The health effects associated with wood dust come not only from the wood dust itself but also biological organisms such as mold and fungi which grow on the wood, and chemicals such as formaldehyde, copper naphthanate, and pentachlorophenol used in the processing of some woods.

Dust Explosions

In addition to the health effects of wood dust, airborne dust can create the potential for a dust explosion.

  • Hazardous (Classified) Locations. OSHA Construction Safety and Health Outreach Program. Contains a discussion of what comprises a hazardous location and the rating system. Wood dust can cause a location to be classified as Class II or Class III.

Exposure Evaluation

There are a number of ways to check the workplace for airborne wood dust. However, the only way to be certain of excessive exposure levels is to monitor the air for wood dust and compare the results with the relevant occupational exposure levels. The following links provide information about evaluating the level of wood dust in the workplace.

Occupational Exposure Levels

Several organizations have set standards or given recommendations for wood dust exposure. These include OSHA, NIOSH, and the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH).

Organization OEL 8 Hour TWA Basis
OSHA Permissible Exposure Limit
Particulate Not Otherwise Regulated
(PNOR)
15 mg/m3 total
5 mg/m3 Respirable
Throat, skin, eye irritation, upper respiratory problems
NIOSH Recommended Exposure Limit 1 mg/m3 total Pulmonary Function,
Carcinogen
TLV ACGIH 2007 Western Red Cedar 0.5 mg/m3 Asthma
ACIGH
2007
All other species 1 mg/m3 Pulmonary Function

Analytical Methods

National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)

Possible Solutions

Engineering controls and personal protective equipment are two methods used for controlling wood dust exposure. Engineering controls, the preferred approach, typically includes an exhaust ventilation system with collectors placed at points where dust is produced. Personal protective equipment is another short term solution to wood dust exposure. Respirators may be worn to remove hazardous particulates (dusts) and gases. The selection of appropriate respirators requires a thorough knowledge of the workplace, the potential chemical contaminants and their concentrations. The use of respirators also requires implementation of a respiratory protection program.

The following resources contain information to help control exposures.

For additional information about possible solutions, see OSHA Safety and Health Topics Pages on:

Additional Information

Related Safety and Health Topics Pages

Training

  • Hazardous (Classified) Locations. OSHA Construction Safety and Health Outreach Program, (1996, May). Contains a discussion of what comprises a hazardous location and the rating system. Wood dust can cause a location to be classified as Class II or Class III.

Other Resources


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