Woodworking is a relaxing and rewarding endeavor. But it does come with hazards. Obviously, cutting yourself is near the top of the list. Not so obvious is the danger from touching wood or inhaling its dust. Simple precautions, though, can prevent or greatly reduce health risks.
Anyone who handles, cuts, sands and assembles woods can have a reaction from different species of woods at any time. Reactions will vary from person to person because of different tolerances for exposure to toxins and irritants. In addition, because certain toxins are cumulative, you may not feel their effects until you have crossed an unknown threshold for tolerance. So even if you have handled a particular exotic wood for years without a problem, one day you might have a reaction from handling that very same wood.
The chart summarizes possible reactions to exposure the woods on the list. Most of the reactions listed are self-explanatory. The exceptions are irritants and sensitizers. An irritant may cause a mild rash, itching, sneezing or coughing. A sensitizer can cause allergic skin reactions, eye inflammation, hay fever, asthma, coughing and many other respiratory diseases.
You should also be careful when working with plywoods, composition board, or other woods that contains chemicals like urea-formaldehyde and phenol-formaldehyde resin glues. The wood preservative CCA (chromated copper arsenate) is hazardous, as are woods treated with copper napthenate, creosote and zinc.
Reactions can occur after inhaling the sawdust, or after the sawdust settles on your skin. Prevention can be as simple as using gloves, a shop apron, a dust respirator approved by NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health), and a good dust collection system suited for your shop’s size. Remember to wear your protective gear when you empty sawdust from the collector. Even if you’ve worn gloves and aprons, it’s a good idea to wash your hands, forearms and face after working with any wood.
Being aware of potential dangers and taking steps to reduce risks increase the likelihood that you’ll be able to enjoy woodworking for many years. Also, whenever you teach your craft, review basic safety and warn of the dangers in the woods. Be a friend and tell a friend.
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