WASHINGTON – After testimony from the American Wood Council, the California Occupational Safety and Health Administration (Cal/OSHA) Standards Board declined a staff proposal to lower the existing permissible exposure limit (PEL) for wood dust from 5 milligrams per cubic meter to 1 milligram per cubic meter.

AWC has been engaged in the process for the last several years and worked with several allied trade associations, to oppose the proposal.

“Cal/OSHA staff had not generated sufficient information to claim the 1 milligram per cubic meter level was feasible to achieve. A PEL of anything less than 2 would force many workers to wear respirators, contrary to the hierarchy of controls,” said AWC chief scientist Stewart Holm, who testified on the issue.

In May, Woodworking Network reported that regulation of worker exposure to wood dust moves another step closer in California, where the state Occupational Health & Safety Administration closed a comments period.

The state's effort to regulate exposure to wood dust began in 2010. The working rule would limit exposure to all hardwood and softwood dust in primary and secondary manufacturing, and would set permissible redwood exposure at half the levels of all other woods.
Columbia Forest Products noted in its blog report that the proposed rule would tighten the limits for wood dust exposure to 1 milligram per cubic meter and lower western red cedar dust limits to 0.5 milligrams per cubic meter.
California's OSHA has identified wood dust as a skin irritant and harmful if inhaled. 
To get wood dust down to the proposed level could include enclosed workstations with controlled environments and workers outside those places wearing personal protective equipment all the time. 
Current regulations in California for limiting exposure to wood dust (all soft and hard woods, except Western Red Cedar) the existing time weight average is 5 mg/per cubic meter. The existing 15-minute short term exposure limit is 10 mg per cubic meter.
For Western Red Cedar the existing permissible exposure limit is is 2.5 mg per cubic meter. The limits for wood dust and for Western Red Cedar were revised in 2005.
While there is no Federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulation that specifically applies to wood dust, OSHA does have a permissible exposure limit for "dust not otherwise classified" that would cover wood dust: 15 mg per cubic meter.

Ultimately, the Standards Board voted against the recommendation to lower the PEL and asked Cal/OSHA to restart the rulemaking. See www.awc.org for more information.

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