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OSHA & EPA

OSHA and EPA Issues

  1. Current medical and government testing show that most small shop woodworkers including hobbyists receive far more fine airborne dust exposures that the exposures that triggered the U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) wood dust standards. Most large woodworking facilities have long blown their fine dust away outside, but most small shop woodworkers trap that fine dust inside. As a result California government air quality testing shows small shops that vent their dust collection inside average two to five times the typical airborne dust levels found in commercial facilities. Typical woodworking makes about one pound of fine invisible dust out of every twenty pounds of sawdust. This fine invisible dust lasts for years. I have a micrograph of wood dust from the pyramids. It is also launched and kept airborne by the lightest breeze. People with the new Dylos air quality monitors are finding that just walking around in their shops is enough to launch considerable dust. Between launching this buildup of previously made dust and the huge amounts of dust we make, small shop woodworkers have huge exposures, plus frequently contaminate their homes, offices, vehicles and any other areas they visit while woodworking. Medical air quality testing shows that in small shops that vent inside the most dangerous fine invisible particles build to levels that are often 10,000 times higher than found in larger facilities that vent their dust collection systems outside. In short, a part time hobbyist woodworker in a few hours work gets exposed to far more dust than most workers in larger commercial facilities receive in months. This is not good news for small shop woodworkers.
  2. Insurance data and medical studies going back to the sixties show almost all woodworkers in larger commercial facilities (that mostly vent outside) eventually develop wood dust related health problems, with about one in eight forced into an early medical retirement. Medical experts and woodworker unions continue to fight to have government standards set to protect woodworkers from airborne dust exposure. Facility owners continue to fight back hard saying providing the recommended protections will bankrupt the woodworking industry. This is an ongoing serious political problem because the 2000 U.S. Census showed that the woodworking industry which includes lumber and paper is the fourth largest employer in the U.S. Add in home construction and woodworking becomes the largest employer in the U.S. Heavy pressure remains on the politicians who run the Department of Labor, Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA). OSHA is responsible for setting U.S. standards. A compromise OSHA standard was set in 1989. That OSHA standard set the air quality limit at the same eight hour average airborne dust level found in most large commercial facilities that vented outside. It also set a maximum personal exposure limit (PEL) for any fifteen minute period.Large facility owners argued strongly against the OSHA standard saying it was ridiculous, not possible to meet, and set them up for personal injury suits that would bankrupt their industry. A couple of ounces of airborne dust will fail a large facility that made hundreds of pounds of sawdust a day. Worse, the finest invisible dust which makes up about one pound out of every twenty spreads so quickly that neither air cleaners nor exhaust fans can bring that dust level down quick enough to avoid failing the PEL fifteen minute exposure limits. The only way to comply with the OSHA standard would require a huge expense to collect the fine dust at each source as it was made. This involved replacing almost all existing tool hoods, dust collection ducting, and existing dust collection blowers. Many studies were commissioned by the woodworking industry that proved woodworking makes almost no fine dust and this dust is not dangerous. Although these studies come from prestigious institutions, none would pass a peer review that critically looked at the test procedures, data and conclusions. The real peer reviewed medical studies show wood dust is very unhealthy and damages all exposed. Every exposure to fine dust causes some measurable loss in respiratory function and some of that loss becomes permanent. This damage builds depending upon the amount and length of exposure. With large shop woodworking already in financial trouble due to high pressure from off-shore inexpensive products, the owner organizations with political help and help from these mostly bogus studies convinced the courts to kill the 1989 OSHA standard before it even became fully effective.
    1. That OSHA standard set allowable airborne dust levels five times higher than the minimum recommended by industrial hygienists and fifty times higher than now recommended by medical experts.
    2. It only applied to large commercial facilities leaving the six out of seven professional woodworkers and all hobbyists that work in small shops unprotected.
    3. It also set no government standards or oversight on the small shop tools and dust collection equipment used by most small shop professional and hobbyist woodworkers that is known to cause the highest dust exposures..

As a result wood dust collection standards remain contentious and there is no enforced standard in the U.S. except what we as woodworkers exercise with our purchasing decisions. Small shop dust collection purchases show a serious lack of knowledge and high influence of vendor advertising efforts that recommend inappropriate and marginal solutions.

  1. Since the 1989 OSHA standard came out, the National Institute of Health (NIH) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released information showing:
    1. Fine wood dust is a much stronger sensitizer than was originally thought, so prolonged exposure causes almost everyone to eventually develop allergy related health problems, some serious. Unlike the larger airborne wood dust particles that our bodies eventually get rid of, the finest dust sized 2.5-microns and smaller, roughly one fortieth the thickness of a coarse human hair, cause many of the most serious long term health problems. Our bodies have a very difficult time getting rid of this finest dust. It goes right past our natural protections and tends to lodge deeply in our tissues. The more of this finest dust we take in, the faster we become sensitized. Continued exposure over time causes us to become more and more sensitized with ever stronger allergic reactions leading to health problems that eventually become chronic and potentially very serious.
    2. The Environmental Protection Agency also declared fine wood dust a carcinogen, meaning our intake of this dust also leaves us with increased risk of cancer.
  2. Medical studies of commercial woodworkers in facilities that comply with current government standards show these OSHA standards do not work. Current weight based industrial testing all but ignores the finest lightest 2.5-micron and smaller airborne dust particles now known over time to cause significant health damage. Medical air quality testing does measure these finest particles using much finer units measuring both particle counts and in parts per million. With almost all large commercial facilities regulated by current government standards blowing their dirty air and these finest particles away outdoors, most have low particle counts, but still high enough to eventually make almost all ill. Almost all “protected” workers in facilities that comply with OSHA guidelines still eventually develop fine wood dust related health problems with roughly one in fourteen now forced into an early wood dust related medical retirement. At first it was assumed the workers getting ill had problems from previously high dust exposures. Too many younger workers getting ill who were never exposed to the higher dust levels show that assumption is wrong.
  3. With pretty overwhelming evidence of the risks of fine dust, almost all large commercial woodworking facilities already voluntarily increased their airborne dust protection to comply with the recommended but not enforced five times tougher government industrial hygienists standards. Even meeting these higher standards is not enough according to medical experts who recommend not five but fifty times less exposure than currently allowed by OSHA standards. The European community has already adopted these medically recommended standards. Woodworking industry leaders are fighting hard against these standards claiming meeting them will require almost all new tools engineered from the ground up with fine dust collection built in, plus reworking almost every existing dust collection system. Dust collection equipment vendors that sell indoor dust collection equipment are also fighting hard because they will have to move their equipment outside or totally rebuild it because current indoor commercial dust collection systems will barely meet government industrial hygienists’ standards.
  4. Many woodshops have their air quality tested as they upgrade their licenses. Others get doctor’s orders to have their shops and home tested. Almost every small shop with indoor dust collection equipment fails their air quality testing with airborne dust levels that weigh two to five times more than allowed OSHA maximums. Those that make lots of dust frequently fail with surges over six times higher than the OSHA fifteen minute maximums. The particle counts for these same shops that use indoor hobbyist dust collection equipment are scary. These shops test with particle counts that average 10,000 times higher than regulated monitored commercial facilities. My own shop while using the “best” rated cyclone with fine filters tested with over double the daily allowable maximum average and a 12,000 times higher than medically recommended particle count. Sadly my home that shares only one connected sealed door to my shop also tested well over medical recommendations. These test results convince that almost every one of us that does woodworking in a small shop with indoor dust collection and almost everyone around us receives dangerously high fine airborne dust exposure. A number of concerns combine to create to this small shop problem:

a.     Air Volume

Most hobbyist dust collectors and cyclones move roughly half the air volume needed to capture the fine dust at our larger tools as it is made. In simple terms air volume defines how big of an area we can collect from, so the more area we need to provide collection for, the more air volume we need. Air engineers long ago found capturing the airborne particles at smaller stationary tools requires upgraded hoods and providing roughly double the air volume needed to just collect the heavier sawdust and chips. Again with larger hobbyist stationary tools identical to smaller commercial tools we can use their same recommendations. Their careful testing and years of experience show to get good fine dust collection at most larger hobbyist stationary tools takes around 792 CFM that they round to 800 CFM to provide a little cushion. You can see the minimum air volume requirements that air engineers use to design commercial dust collection systems on my CFM Requirements Table;

 

Dust Collector Airspeed

 

Most hobbyist ducting designs fail to keep the air moving fast enough. Air speed feet per minute (FPM) defines how heavy of chips we can collect. Air engineers also long ago did their testing and found that we need to move between 3700 to 3800 FPM to pickup the heavier chips produced during normal woodworking operations. Airspeed also needs to stay high enough to keep what we collect from building up piles of chips or plugging our ducting. Air engineering testing shows we need to maintain an air speed of at least 2500 to 2700 FPM in horizontal ducting runs and at least 3800 FPM airspeed in our vertical runs. To provide a little cushion air engineers target their ducting systems to move 4000 FPM;

 

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