Decreasing Wood Dust to Keep Your Workspace Safe and Healthy
Wood dust is as common in woodworking spaces as lumber itself. But the byproduct is actually quite dangerous. In excess, they can be a fire hazard, sometimes even causing explosions in larger and busier woodshops. Fires spread easier when there’s wood dust, igniting due to cigarette smoking, faulty electrical equipment, open flames or even tools that run hot. These are real dangers to people and can also cost businesses a lot.
One sobering example is the 2003 dust explosion that occurred in a plant in Kentucky. The OSHA reported that this resulted in seven deaths and dozens of injuries when a dust cloud came from an oven and ignited, creating enormous flames. In another instance in 2015 a Tennessee timber company suffered a days-long fire due to excess wood and dust.
While DIY woodworkers, garage operations and people doing small personal projects might not be at risk of enormous blazes caused by industrial amounts of wood dust byproducts, they still need to take care of themselves so that their work spaces won’t become fire hazards. Also, aside from fires inhalation of dust is also a health risk.
How can woodworkers, woodshop owners and operators protect themselves, their employees and their properties from these risks? First and foremost, they should properly remove dust through good housekeeping practices and dust management systems (if you have the facilities for it).
Comprehensive housekeeping and maintenance procedures include steps like:
Keeping an eye out for areas that tend to accumulate dust, such as horizontal surfaces like beams and the tops of equipment, concealed spaces like the gaps behind equipment, and even the interiors of machinery.
If necessary, you can hire professionals to identify and address wood dust accumulation. For woodshop businesses, they can reach out to their insurers’ loss control teams.
Prioritize regularly cleaning these at-risk areas to limit or prevent dust collection. Remember, wood dust tends to accumulate in closed off or hard to reach places. So clean work stations and equipment spaces every day. And a few times a year the entire space should have thorough cleanings to remove wood dust and other hazards.
Vacuuming is your best friend. It’s a simple, easy and effective method of removing dust.
Dust Control Equipment
Critical for dedicated woodshops and woodworking facilities, though these are usually beyond the scope of enthusiasts with DIY garage operations. These include dust collection systems, like vents. Safety shut-offs and alarms. Fire prevention and suppression controls, like abort gates, spark detection sensors and extinguishing systems.
Personal Safety Equipment
While such large-scale infrastructure might be beyond the scope of woodworkers doing personal projects in their garages, safety and protective equipment on a personal-level are still a definite must. PPEs like goggles, masks and gloves are compulsory, along with standard safety procedures and best practices that anyone can uphold. The same goes for equipment like fire alarms, fire extinguishers, etc. which are definitely handy.
It pays to be prepared. Of course, no one wants to actually have to use their fire extinguishers. This is why preventative measures are called for. Properly mitigating the risk of wood dust-related fire, as well as health hazards like inhalation, start with these basic procedures. Dust removal, equipment maintenance and fire suppression are part of the continuum that ensures a safe and healthy workspace. So stay safe, everyone!