Recent prosecutions: Recycling centre fined £160,000 for wood dust offences

A recycling centre has received a six-figure fine for failing to protect workers from harmful wood dust exposure. 

An HSE investigation found that the wood waste recycling centre – which converts mixed wood waste, hardwood, and softwood into biofuel – had jeopardised their employees’ long-term health by falling short of recommended safety controls. These include implementing local exhaust ventilation (LEV), enclosing machinery, and using vacuum systems instead of compressed air for cleaning and maintenance.

Exposure to wood dust is linked to dermatitis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and several forms of cancer. It’s also one of the UK’s primary causes of occupational asthma, which accounts for 10-20% of all adult asthma cases. 

While it was recognised that four successive storms had raised exposure levels in the centre’s surrounding area, the investigation revealed that the control of wood dust did not reach the expected benchmark. The company pleaded guilty to breaching Regulation 7(1) of the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations 2002 and was fined £160,000 and ordered to pay £5,310 in costs. 

Following the hearing, the HSE inspector said: ‘The expected standard is to control exposure to as low a level as is reasonably practicable.

‘We hope this serves to raise industry awareness for the expectation of control of hazardous substances, namely wood dust, in the wood waste and recycling industry.’

Reducing wood dust risks in your builders merchant 

The HSE continues to crack down on wood dust exposure. Their national ‘Dust Kills’ campaign, aimed at woodworking businesses, demonstrates their targeted approach to prosecutions.

Under the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health 2002 (COSHH) Regulations, employers are required to safeguard workers against exposure to hazardous substances, including wood dust. This can be achieved using a range of tried-and-tested methods: 

  • Installing local exhaust ventilation (LEV), which is widely viewed as the most effective control method for airborne particulate dusts.
  • Banning dry sweeping within a mill or machining area.
  • Providing HEPA filter or M Class vacuums to remove wood dust in areas that LEV extensions can’t reach. 
  • Supplying appropriate PPE, such as FFP3 masks and gloves, when changing dust bags.
  • Teaming LEV with respiratory protective equipment (RPE) when sanding. 
  • Using face fit testing as part of your risk assessments when FFP3 masks are required. 
  • Implementing occupational health lung function testing (Spirometry) or air monitoring as an extra measure. 

Learn more about reducing wood dust exposure risks 

With foresight and planning, you can prevent HSE scrutiny, safety notices, and prosecutions. Our recent blog provides expert guidance to evaluate your wood dust exposure risks and introduce proven safety controls across your business. Read the article here