WorkSafe to Address Wood Dust Respiratory Risks in Cabinetmaking Sector

In 2008/09 when the then Department of Labour (DoL) looked at this issue their wish was to lower the permissible Workplace Exposure Standard (WES) for softwood dust from 5mg/m³ to 1mg/m³ in line with international best practice. Their reasons were;
  • Human studies on the health effects from chronic inhalation of soft and mixed wood dusts indicate adverse health effects including; impaired lung functions at concentrations below 5mg/m³.
  • In industries where a variety of wood types are commonly used, different WESs for hard and soft woods can be problematic in terms of exposure monitoring.
  • A WES of 1mg/m³ is being considered as this level is intended to prevent decreases in pulmonary function.
  At that time, members of the Furniture Association opposed the lowering of the WES on the grounds of;
  • Concern at the lack of evidence from DoL to support change
  • No indication of significant long term damage to health  from employees working in the affected areas of interest
  • A reduction in dust levels will result in significant costs to update/replace machinery.
  • The many small companies in the industry will ignore the reduced standard as they could not afford to update their machinery.
  • Considerable pressure on the industry from low cost imported furniture and a downturn in consumer spending is leading to a reduction in the number of companies operating in the industry.
  • The reduction is seen as another compliance cost imposed on industry.
  WorkSafe are now holding a series of industry workshops/focus groups to;  
  • Articulate common wood dust risks
  • Articulate a range of control measures that could help manage these risks effectively
  • Develop clear and simple guidance to educate the industry
  • Identify ways to remove barriers that may prevent industry employers from managing the risks of wood dust.
  FCANZ has nominated Rod Carron to represent the interests of the industry at these workshops. Rod is currently a workplace assessor for the in the furniture industry apprenticeship training programme. Prior to this Rod spent half a century employed in the cabinetmaking sector of the industry and has an in-depth knowledge of wood dust issues in the workplace.   FCANZ will keep members informed on the outcome of the WorkSafe workshops.

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