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22 July 2010

Employers and trade unions publish a brochure to reduce exposure to wood dust

The European Federation of Building and Woodworkers (EFBWW) and the European Confederation of Woodworking Industries have published a brochure setting out some concrete ideas to help minimise workers’ exposure to wood dust. The brochure, entitled Less dust, offers a number of technical solutions to reduce exposure to wood dust (suction systems, direct capture by woodworking machinery, new types of abrasives, etc).


Wood dust is a major health risk for the 2.9 million workers in the wood and furnishing sector in the EU. Studies on the woodworking industry in North America, Canada and Sweden have shown that up to 13.5% of people exposed to wood dust suffer from respiratory problems. Wood dust can also cause diseases of the skin and various types of cancer (in particular, those of the ethmoid and sinuses). Dust from hardwood is classified as ‘known to be carcinogenic to man’ by the World Health Organization.


The European directive ensuring the protection of workers against carcinogenic agents sets a occupational exposure limit value which is binding only for hardwood dust (exotic woods, beech, oak, etc). The European Trade Union Confederation would like to see the imposition, as part of the ongoing revision of that directive, of a binding limit value likewise for dust from softwood (resinous wood).


While the European directive has the merit of setting a binding limit value at European level (set at 5 mg/m3 per eight hours worked), it is debatable whether it offers sufficient protection. In some Member States, for example (Germany, Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands), the binding limit value falls to 2 mg/m3. Finland has even set it at 1 mg/m3 for new factories. That being so, the editors of the brochure believe that the European limit value is not based on scientific observations, and reiterate that they have been anxious for several years for the European Commission to put forward an alternative value.

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