HSE Inspectors to visit businesses in the woodworking sector
Updated: Mar 16
It’s been announced that from April 2022, HSE inspectors will be visiting woodworking businesses to make sure that owners and workers are aware of the risks and have devised, implemented and maintained effective control measures to ensure everyone is protected. The consequences of an inspector discovering unsafe working practices and poor control of hazardous substances can range from an improvement notice to legal action being taken against the business, in addition to Fees for Intervention that the HSE can levy.
Non-compliance is a costly business, and you would be well advised to ensure that you have effective health and safety measures in place before an inspector walks into your workplace. The hazards don’t just include chemicals such as varnishes and staining agents or the dangers from machinery; cutting and working the wood itself will produce wood dust and this can cause significant risks to health unless the correct control measures are in place.
What’s the risk?
It’s estimated that each year, about 12,000 people die from lung diseases that can be shown to be caused by past exposure to hazardous substances in the workplace. That figure includes those who have inhaled wood dust produced during woodworking activity. As well as fatal consequences such as sinonasal cancer, wood dust inhalation can also cause occupational asthma and other respiratory and life-limiting conditions.
What will the inspectors be looking for?
When they arrive at your business, the inspector will want to see evidence that you have assessed and implemented the control measures you need to reduce the exposure to wood dusts for your employees. They will assess whether your employees understand the risks to their long-term respiratory health from exposure to wood dusts.
However, even though they will be concentrating on wood dust, they will also keep a keen eye out for other hazards, such as the degree to which machinery is maintained, whether safeguards are present and used, the level of training that staff have in using them and the protection that workers have from the noise levels that these machines and tools typically produce.
You should also expect to be asked for copies of paperwork such as COSHH and risk assessments and health surveillance records, as well as records of maintenance to machinery and tools, so be sure to keep these easily accessible and up to date.
What should employers know?
New or revised limits for 13 substances were introduced on 17th January 2020. You should refer to Table 1 of EH40/2005 'Workplace Exposure Limits' for the latest WELs as these supersede any WELs contained in other HSE guidance or publications.
This information will help employers, the self-employed and franchisees to comply with the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (COSHH), as amended, to control exposure to wood dusts, etc, and protect workers’ health.
As mentioned above, it is important to ensure you have written instructions and they have been provided to employees covering:
Training and supervision for machinery
Information on health hazards (i.e. asthma, dermatitis, noise), and what to do about them (control, signs and symptoms and reporting them)
How to use extraction systems properly and the use of/care for dust masks etc.
How to clean up properly
The HSE will be checking that employees are encouraged to become 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.