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Wood Dust Toolbox Talk

There are a handful of risks when it comes to working around wood dust consistently. Use this toolbox talk to educate your crews on wood dust safety.

Wood Dust Safety Talk

When you work in an industry that is known to have high amounts of wood dust, there are hazards you should be aware of. Wood Dust is listed as one of the 119 agents that are carcinogenic to humans. That means that it has known properties to cause cancer in people.

Many people are exposed to wood dust at both work and at home. It is important that you are aware of the dangers and proper ways to avoid being exposed to high quantities of wood dust. In this toolbox talk, we'll touch on a few of those precautions, as well as health effects to look out for.

What is wood dust?

Wood dust, also known as sawdust, are fine wood particles that are a by-product of woodworking processes such as sawing, sanding, and other operations.

Is wood dust harmful?

Wood dust is considered a potential health problem as the small particles can become airborne and irritate the skin and eyes, in addition to being breathed into the lungs.

Wood dust may also contain mold and fungi, two biological organisms commonly found on wood, which cause their own health effects.

How much exposure to wood dust is dangerous?

Prolonged exposure to wood dust is the main concern for safety. OSHA recommends an eight-hour exposure limit of 5 mg/m3 for most hard wood and soft wood, with stricter guidelines for certain wood species, like the Western red cedar.

How to Reduce Wood Dust Exposure

It is vital for the health of you and those working around you to take the right precautions in order to reduce the amount of wood dust exposure.

1. Use Engineering Controls

There are engineering controls that can be put into place to help keep you protected, which can reduce the amount of dust that is being directed towards you while working. Ventilation is one of those. Installing a ventilation system near the source of the dust can help cut down exposure.

2. Stay Tidy

Good housekeeping is just as important in the workplace as it is at your home. When you are in an environment that poses potential health risks, cleaning as you go is important. Cleaning up wood dust after each job can help to cut down on the amount of exposure that you have.

3. Wear PPE

Any time that you are in an area that has risks, the proper PPE, or personal protective equipment, should always be worn. It’s designed to protect you from the elements that you are surrounded by. In this case, you need protection from high quantities of wood dust. A respirator, safety goggles, and gloves may be necessary for certain situations to protect yourself.

4. Avoid The Point of Operations

If you have the ability to step away from the area that is creating the dust, do so. Apply the necessary precautions that you can to protect yourself as much as possible. Consider putting up blocks to keep the majority of the wood dust away from you while working.

wood dust on a construction site.

Wood Dust Health Effects

It is important that all employees know the signs and symptoms of wood dust exposure. There are mild health effects that you may feel (like irritation) and then there are more severe symptoms (like shortness of breath) that can be detrimental to your health. It is a good idea that all employees understand what health effects to watch for to better protect themselves.

Eye, Nose, and Throat Irritation

Irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat are common when working around wood dust. It is considered an occupational hazard of the job. While this is usually not harmful to you, in excessive amounts it can become a bigger problem.

Shortness of Breath

If you are experiencing shortness of breath after working around wood dust, you need to seek medical attention. This can occur when the walls of your lungs become inflamed from inhaling wood dust, making your air passage swollen. One of the big concerns with this is it turning into pneumonia or something worse.


Conjunctivitis, also known as pink eye, is an infection in the eye. This can occur in the eye when the mucus membrane gets irritated. Most likely, you have gotten wood dust in your eye and it is causing some problems. Most of the time you are going to need to see a medical professional for an antibiotic to clear the infection up.

Skin Irritation

Skin irritation can be a common occurrence for individuals working around wood dust, especially if you already experience sensitive skin. Dermatitis and allergic reactions can occur from wood dust or wood sap. Some cases can be mild and may able to be treated with home care, while more severe cases may need the help of a medical professional.

Types of Wood Most Common To Cause Health Concerns

When it comes to working with wood, certain types are more prone to cause problems than others. You should always be aware of the type of wood that you are working with, just in case a health concern arises. Some of the wood types that are more known to irritate people are:

  • Alder

  • Birch

  • Oak

  • Maple

  • Spruce

  • Teak

  • Walnut

  • Rosewood

  • Teak Walnut

  • Mahogany

  • Cedar

  • Douglas Fir

These woods all have a different reaction that they are commonly known to cause, which varies from dermatitis to cancer, and everything in between. If you are someone who works predominantly with wood, you should educate yourself on these type-specific hazards.

Employees Most At Risk for Wood Dust Exposure

Wood dust exposure is going to happen from time to time. It is workers who are continually exposed to wood dust that are most at risk for severe health problems. The workers that fall into this category include:

  • Construction workers

  • Shipbuilding workers

  • Carpenters

  • Sawmill workers

  • Logging workers

  • Furniture engineers

  • Cabinetry workers

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