Wood dust prosecutions

Outsource Safety LtdSafety newsWood dust prosecutions
January 5, 2024 Posted by Roger Hart

We have helped our clients with exposure to wood dust for over 30 years.  We completed our first air monitoring in the early 1990s and are perfectly placed to support and advise you on wood dust exposure.  We also work together with leading Local Exhaust Ventilation Engineers to support our clients in implementing cost-effective and suitable extraction systems to help control wood dust exposure within all types of industries.wood dust exposure

It is worth noting that the acceptable exposure levels for wood dust exposure have reduced significantly in recent years.  For a very long time, an exposure of 5 milligrams per cubic metre would have been seen as acceptable, since 2020 this has reduced to just 2 mg/m3 and may fall further.  See our earlier blog post from January 2018 for more information on these changes.

All of the above leads us onto some recent prosecutions for two companies which exceeded the allowable wood dust exposure limit, read on to find out more about what happened and contact us or ask one of our experts to call you back if you need further support.  If you’re a member of our Safety~net support service then please get in touch, if you would like to become a member then please let us know.

A Norfolk woodworking company has been fined £25,000 for failing to control its employees’ exposure to wood dust.

A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspection of The Joinery Yard Limited at Sweet Briar Road industrial estate, Norwich in November 2019 identified failings in the company’s control measures to prevent exposure of their employees to wood dust. As a result, enforcement action was taken.

Wood dust is a respiratory sensitiser that can cause long term health effects including occupational asthma.

A subsequent inspection in July 2022 showed that the company had failed to maintain standards and enforcement action was taken again. This inspection identified ongoing failings in the company’s control measures and found that they had failed to take appropriate precautions to ensure the safety of workers exposed to wood dust.

HSE has guidance on working in the woodworking industry and is running the Dust Kills: Wood Dust campaign page.

At a hearing at Norwich Magistrates’ Court on 4 October, The Joinery Yard Ltd of Aylsham Road, Norwich, Norfolk pleaded guilty to breaching the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, Section 2 (1). They were fined £25,000 and ordered to pay costs of £2681.77.

After the hearing, HSE Inspector Natalie Prince said “The fine imposed on The Joinery Yard Limited should underline to everyone in the woodworking industry that the courts, and HSE, take a failure to follow the regulations extremely seriously.

“Wood dust can cause serious health problems and all businesses need to protect their workers’ respiratory health.

“We will not hesitate to take action against companies which do not do all that they should to keep people safe.”

This HSE prosecution was supported by HSE enforcement lawyer Sam Crockett and paralegal officer Rebecca Forman.

A Northwich furniture company has been fined £16,000 after it repeatedly failed to protect its employees from exposure to wood dust.

Pineland Furniture Ltd, based on Witton Street in the Cheshire town, was inspected by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) on two separate occasions over a two-year period – with both identifying identical breaches.

Nathan Cook, HSE senior enforcement lawyer, told Chester Magistrates Court, how a visit in December 2019 found significant breaches of the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (COSHH) – resulting in six improvement notices being served. These included requirements for the company to undertake statutory examinations of its wood dust extraction systems and to undertake face fit testing for those employees required to wear tight fitting face masks.

• HSE inspectors identified Pineland Furniture had failed to protect its workers from wood dust

However, another visit to the same premises in November 2021 found identical breaches and again improvement notices were served.

This inspection came as part of HSE’s national campaign targeting woodworking businesses. The significant occupational health risks associated with wood dust and the continued failure to ensure control of exposure to wood dust resulted in HSE prosecuting the company.

Pineland Furniture Limited pleaded guilty to breaching regulations 7(1) and 9(2)(a) of COSHH. They were fined £16,000 and was ordered to pay £3008 costs at a hearing at Chester Magistrates Court on 11th October 2023.

• HSE inspectors identified Pineland Furniture had failed to protect its workers from wood dust

After the hearing, HSE inspector Ian Betley said: “Wood dust is a substance hazardous to health because it can cause serious non-reversible health problems, including asthma; dermatitis; and irritation to the eyes, nose and throat.

“Occupational lung disease causes the death of 12,000 people in Great Britain annually, and there are an estimated 19,000 new cases of breathing and lung problems each year, where individuals regarded their condition as being caused or made worse by work.

“It is important to carry out statutory thorough examinations of extraction equipment and ensure face fit testing, as required by COSHH to help prevent ill health.

“We will not hesitate to take enforcement action when necessary to make sure workers’ health is protected.”