Public Health Department Information: Using Burnt Wood
Public Health Department – Occupational Health
Following the recent forest fires in our region, the forestry industry is facing additional challenges regarding the processing of burnt wood. Although some companies have worked with burnt wood in the past, they will likely have increased quantities to handle in the coming months due to the extensive area of burned forest. The measures implemented must therefore address technical and additional safety issues, while ensuring the health of the workers. Although the composition of burnt wood dust (soot) is poorly documented, some health impacts on the affected personnel are well known. Short-term effects of exposure to wood dust on health can include eye, nose, and throat irritation; coughing; and allergic reactions. In the long term, exposure to these substances can lead to more serious health problems, including lung diseases such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
It is therefore important to identify tasks involving contact with these dust particles and ensure that existing or implemented control measures are effective in reducing their exposure.
Here are some recommendations and examples of preventive measures:
- Raise Workers’ Awareness
- Inform them about the health risks associated with exposure to burnt wood dust and explain the control measures put in place to protect them.
- Reduce the Spread of Soot Dust
- Mix healthy wood with burnt wood before debarking, ideally in similar proportions.
- Water the wood logs before debarking (use of a soaking basin).
- Define high-exposure zones to limit the number of exposed individuals.
- Limit the use of compressed air jets for surface and equipment cleaning to prevent re-suspending dust in the air and increasing worker exposure.
- Moisturize surfaces or use dust control devices before cleaning tasks.
- Reduce Exposure Level and Duration through Administrative Means
- Rotate high-risk positions among workers to reduce their overall exposure.
- Increase the frequency of cleaning for premises and equipment.
- Reduce Dust Accumulation in Workers’ Respiratory Zone
- Ensure the full effectiveness of source capture systems for high-risk positions.
- Provide proper ventilation and air circulation in the work area.
- Adjust the frequency of preventive maintenance for ventilation/air conditioning systems in operation cabins and machinery.
Reduce Exposure through Individual Measures
- Provide workers with suitable respiratory protective equipment for high-risk tasks in accordance with the CSA Z94.4:11 standard for the selection, use, and maintenance of respiratory protective equipment (Respiratory Protection Program).
- Workers should wear long-sleeved clothing and appropriate gloves for the occupation.
- or activities identified as high-risk, offer them coveralls and sealed goggles.
- Clothing soiled by soot must be changed and cleaned between shifts. It’s important to consider this activity as a high-risk task.
- Encourage personal hygiene practices, such as frequent handwashing, especially before breaks and meals. Note that wearing gloves does not replace the need for handwashing.
Implementing these recommendations will better protect the health of workers involved in the harvesting and processing of burnt wood.
Stakeholders from the public health network in occupational health are available to offer their expertise and support to workplaces in the implementation of preventive measures.