Wood Workers Safety Week: Unseen Dangers

May 7, 2009 at 11:14 am Leave a comment

Welcome to Wood Workers Safety Week 2009.  WWSW was started last year by Marc Spagnolo aka ‘The Wood Whisperer’ along with the publishers of Fine Wood Working Magazine.  This year they are at it again hoping to get more people to work safely.  Many of the members of The Wood Whisperer Network are blogging about woodworking safety and you can see those posts via the links above.

When we talk about getting hurt most people think of cuts, splinters and flying debris.  However there are other dangers that we can’t always see.  The damage from these dangers can take a long time to show themselves or can be felt much quicker depending on the exposure.  What I am talking about is our hearing and breathing.

Hearing Protection

Protecting ourselves from hearing loss is simple.  Head down to your local home center or hardware store and purchase a good set of hearing protection earmuffs or earplugs.  Then use them whenever you use power tools or other machinery.  Read the packages as they will tell you how much sound they block out.

I know the dangers to our hearing as my father has been using hearing aids for several years.  He was in need of hearing aids for several years prior to finally purchasing them.  My father is a life long construction worker.  Being exposed to the constant noise on the construction site over the years has damaged his hearing.  You might be thinking, “I don’t work with power tools day in and day out.  Why do I need to be worried about my hearing?”   According to The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders any sound at or above 85 decibels can cause hearing loss.

Lung Protection

The dangers to our breathing are numerous and come in many forms.  The most obvious danger is dust from the wood we are working with.  We create this dust when we cut or sand the wood.  Dust from woodworking can be small enough that we can’t even see it.  It is this super fine dust that can damage our lungs.  We might not feel the results right away.  There are others who have breathing problems that would feel the affects much sooner.  Some of the woods that we use may cause an allergic reaction in people.  Other wood products such as MDF have cancer causing elements.  MDF in particular creates large quantities of the super fine dust that can cause the most damage.

Other sources of potential lung damage is from the products that we use to finish out wood working projects.  Paint, Polyurethane, solvents and other finishing chemicals give off fumes that can be very damaging to our lungs.  Even after the finish dries it will still off gas these fumes for a few hours to a few days or longer.  Again those with respiratory ailments are the most susceptible to the damage that these dangers pose.

Now that we are aware of the dangers to our lungs how do we protect them and those we love.  The first line of defense is to collect the dust at the source.  Use some type of dust extraction such as a shop vac connected to your tool.  While this is a good start the shop vac needs to have a highly rated filter or you will be putting the dust back into the air.  There are also additional devices that will collect the dust such as more powerful blower fans and cyclones.  I could go into detail on these but it would take days to type it all up.  More detailed information can be found on the web via your favorite search engine.

The second line of defense is at our mouth and nose.  There are several types of dust masks available at your local home center.  The cheapest is not the best option and could trap the dust so you breath it constantly.  The paper dust mask or nuisance mask is not going to protect you because it doesn’t seal around your nose and mouth.  Also the filter material is course so the super fine dust can still get through.

The type of dust mask you need to protect yourself needs to completely seal around your nose and mouth.  Only allowing air in through a super fine particulate filter.  These are called respirators and come in a variety of shapes and sizes.  Some also come with full face shields to protect you from flying debris or fumes.  There are two types of filters.  One is a particulate filter which stops the super fine dust from passing through.  The other filter type is for organic vapor.  This filter will protect you from the fumes from paint and other finishes.

When shopping for a respirator you should find one that fits your face properly and has interchangeable filter cartridges.  To test the fit of a mask put it on and tighten the straps.  Place you hand over the exhaust valve and try to breath out.  You should not have any air escapeing.  Next put your hands over the filter cartridges and try to breath in.  You shouldn’t have any air coming in from around the mask.  If the mask passes both of these tests then it is a proper fit for your face.

The final line of defence is a room air filtration system.  These systems have three filters.  Each filter in the stack is finer then the previous one.  The real good ones also cycle the air in your shop several times an hour.

Last but not least do the best you can to isolate your work area from the rest of the house ventilation.  If you have forced air conditioning/heat then make sure there is no return air supply coming from your shop area.  Seal the doors and any duct work in the ceiling.  This will help keep the dust out of the rest of the house.  Any finish work should be done in a controlled manner venting the fumes outside. Or if possible take the finish work out of the house entirely.  Read the container of your finishing product carefully.  It will have warnings for the various hazards including if the product or it’s fumes are flammable.

GAME ON!!   And Stay Safe!!!

Entry filed under: Tools, Woodworking.

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He who works with his hands is a laborer.
He who works with his hands and his head is a craftsman.
He who works with his hands and his head and his heart is an artist.
– St. Francis of Assisi
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