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I believe in H&S, I think it’s a ‘good thing’, but when I was much younger and a lot more foolish, I didn’t…so let’s just say that thus far, I’ve been lucky.  Here’s a question for you. How many times have you been out and about and seen a workman with a large petrol disc cutter, merrily slicing up paving slabs and surrounded by a massive cloud of white concrete dust? I’ll wager that the answer is ‘quite a few’ and moreover, I’ll also wager that the workman wasn’t wearing a dust mask or ear muffs!

In the summer, I saw one such operative doing exactly that and I couldn’t resist. I ‘politely’ enquired of his health, mentioning that he was totally enclosed in a white, opaque cloud of gritty dust. “It’s alright mate” he shouted back over the racket…“I’m ‘oldin’ me bref while I cut!”

Personally, I think the issue is that people just don’t see H&S as important until unfortunately, in many cases, it’s too late and their health has suffered beyond repair or they’ve had some ghastly accident, which may have been caused by neglect of some description.

It has to be said that I quite like dipping into Facebook from time to time and the pic below was lifted off the website recently. It shows a new dust mask and one that’s been contaminated after three days of planing and routing. What’s even more interesting is one of the comments that followed from Antony Holden (and I have permission to quote him here): “When I was young, I was indestructible. I only wore a mask when you couldn’t see through the dust, or when I could be bothered to wear one. I used to cough it all off and never give it a thought. Now I’m older (46), I know I’m mortal. I’m hyper-sensitive to any and all kinds of dust and chemicals. Minor exposure to dust or fumes can make me feel ill, like I’ve been hit by a truck. I can’t just cough it off any more. Now, I’m extraction paranoid these days, not only with all my tools, but my overall workshop too, AND I WEAR A FULL MASK FOR ALL DUSTY/VOLATILE ENVIRONMENTS. Hopefully it’s not too late for me, but be warned – don’t take your health for granted – you’ll miss it when it’s gone!”

Dust masks - before and after
Dust masks – before and after

I’m not nearly in the same dire circumstances as Antony, but this sort of comment is without doubt a wake-up call! I take the view that minor exposure to wood dust is part of the territory…it goes with woodworking and, provided sensible precautions are taken, the risk can be minimised so the routine in my ‘shop is as follows. When there’s more than a plastic carrier bag of shavings on the floor, the workshop gets cleaned and vacuumed. I have a decent extraction system, with a Camvac 386 at its heart, which is linked to all the major pieces of machinery. As well as this, I have two older Axminster vacuum extractors which are hooked up to other machines and another one which I use as a general ‘shop vacuum as well as an extractor for power tools. There’s also an Axminster ambient air cleaner (running off an electronic timer), which is very similar to the Jet AFS-1000B model. For sanding and machine tasks, I have a big box of Alphamesh cup respirators, which I thoroughly recommend.

For more information on Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE) and how to stay safe please click here.

  • I used to be less careful than I should, in part because I do have good (Axminster) extractors on all the machines and a Jet Air Filtration System in the shop.

    The somewhere I don’t recall where I read that my wood of choice Oak and another wood I use a fair bit Oak produce dust that is classed as carcinogens. So for the moment I have found my masks and am seriously looking at investing in a better powered respirator.

    • Rob Stoakley

      One of the most telling images I ever saw was of a certain very well known woodworker. In that picture, he was sanding some material and using an extractor resting close by on the bench to suck up the dust, but I know that the particular individual at that time smoked ciggies.
      So you have to weigh the risk…which was doing him the most harm? Sucking on cigarettes several times a day, or the odd bit of exposure (with decent extraction) to wood dust? If you think about it for a few seconds, it’s a ‘no brainer’.

      • Batweasel

        Sadly I think it may be like asbestos; smoking as well multiplies the risks enormously compared to either just smoking or just being exposed to asbestos. Similarly, adding a bit of wood dust exposure to smoking may well multiply the risks.

        • Rob Stoakley

          You may well be right Batweasel. I for one take the view that smoke inhalation from the noxious weed is possibly one of the daftest things that anyone can knowingly do to themselves, but on the other hand, most of us have a vice or two of some sort tucked away…now where did I hide the corkscrew?

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