Improving the management of wood dust

by Dann Albright on December 23, 2014

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When it comes to health and safety in woodworking, wood dust is an issue that comes up often. But despite it being well-known that wood dust can be a health and fire hazard, many woodworkers aren’t taking the necessary precautions. The HSE commissioned a study to find out why this is the case and what can be done about it: here’s what they found.

Challenges: time, money, and knowledge

Many companies find it difficult to put good health and safety practices into place and monitor compliance because of constraints on time and money. Proper protective measures can be cost prohibitive, particularly for small companies. Large companies may find it difficult to prioritize spending on a potentially transient workforce as well, and there are many companies of both sizes that are not aware of cost-effective measures.

The HSE’s report states that many construction companies lack the knowledge required to manage health hazards and aren’t aware of the benefits of managing occupational health, and surmises that many in the woodworking industry don’t understand the severity of the risks or the potentially serious consequences of not engaging in best health practices. Keeping up with legislative changes is also difficult, leading many to not be up-to-date on the latest laws.

Financial incentives encourage change

The report suggests that using both positive and negative incentives could be helpful in encouraging companies to adopt measures to control exposure to wood dust. Positive incentives like reducing sick absenteeism, reduced insurance premiums, and giving grants related to purchasing equipment, as well as negative ones including facing increased absenteeism, fines for poor health and safety practices, and a potential for reduced work efficacy are all likely to motivate companies to engage in the proper behaviours.

Similarly, affordable and practical controls to reduce exposure to wood dust are more likely to be adopted by companies, so raising awareness of these measures will increase compliance. This is especially true when the messages are targeted to the woodworking industry, and use clear language that fits the field.

Managers are important in health and safety

The report concludes that the most important point of influence within an organisation is the gatekeeper—in this case, a manager. These are the people who control access to resources and can facilitate change. Of course, measures need to be taken to influence the workforce within an organisation as well, but when trying to change the overall culture regarding health and safety in an attempt to reduce wood dust exposure and the resulting consequences, managers and owners are of high priority.

Close supervision of working practices is important for all aspects of health and safety, another reason why managers play a crucial role in ensuring compliance.

Increasing awareness and compliance

Managing the exposure to wood dust is a crucial part of health and safety compliance in the woodworking industry, and yet its enforcement remains at sub-optimal levels. However, by increasing awareness, providing adequate incentives, and ensuring that managers and owners have a solid understanding of the benefits of managing occupational health, it’s an issue that can be improved.

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