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Revision of Workplace Exposure Limit for Hardwood Dust

If your business has the potential to expose workers to dusts containing hardwood, you should be aware of a change to the Workplace Exposure Limit coming into force on 18 January 2023.

What is happening?

The Workplace Exposure Limit published in Health & Safety Executive (HSE) document EH40 relating to hardwood dust (inhalable fraction) is currently 3 mg/m3 over an 8-hour averaging period.  This was reduced from 5 mg/m3 in January 2020, and is due to reduce again to 2 mg/m3 following the requirements of EU Directive 2017/2398.

Wood dusts can cause serious health problems. They can cause asthma with carpenters and joiners four times more likely to get compared to other UK workers.  Hardwood dust is a confirmed carcinogen so is known to cause cancer, particularly of the nose.

Who Is Affected?

Anyone potentially exposed to dusts that may contain hardwood is affected, this includes those exposed to hardwoods mixed with other wood dusts   For all mixed wood dusts, the hardwood WEL will apply.

As well as processes handling hardwoods directly, materials made from mixed wood fibres may also present a risk of hardwood exposure.  For instance, the composition of Medium-Density Fibreboard (MDF) and chipboard can vary but is often manufactured from a mixture of hardwood and softwood residues.  Unless composition data is available from the manufacturer, the hardwood limit will apply to wood dust exposures from these materials as the presence of hardwood has to be assumed.

What should you be doing?

  • Undertake or update workplace exposure monitoring to determine the level of compliance with the new limits
  • Ensure any control measures such as LEVs are working properly, utilised correctly and examined at the appropriate intervals
  • Update employees about the risks from wood dust and the control measures required
  • Avoid sweeping up or using forced air to clear wood dusts. Use a suitable industrial vacuum cleaner such as Class M or higher instead.
  • For very dusty jobs, additional protection may be merited, and suitable respiratory protection worn. In these cases;
  • Select a respirator with the appropriate protection level.
  • Check that it fits each individual operative properly by undertaking face-fit testing
  • Where an acceptable ‘face-fit’ cannot be achieved, a positive pressure respirator must be used
  • Ensure respiratory protection is well looked after and changed regularly according to manufacturer’s instructions
  • Review all relevant risk assessments and method statements, updating them as required to reflect the new WEL.


Please contact ProAktive Environmental should you need any further advice or support on 0114 243 9914.

By Trevor Halliday – Environmental Specialist

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