A long-discussed EU proposal to cut workplace hardwood dust exposure could come into force in 2015, according to the UK Health & Safety Executive (HSE).

One recommendation is to cut the EU occupational exposure limit from the current 5mg/m³ to 3mg/m³ as part of a revision of the EU Carcinogens and Mutagens directive. More radically, some European countries are pressing for a reduction to just 1mg/m³.

Currently the HSE is seeking information from hardwood processing industries to assess the difficulties and costs of reducing exposure to the two proposed levels. There are concerns about the difficulty of differentiating between softwood and hardwood dust and particularly the impact of any change in the rules on smaller businesses. France already subsidises firms to cut to the 1mg/m³ level, but HSE says this is not possible in the UK.

It expects a formal proposal for the directive revision in 2013. This would be followed by a negotiation period, giving a likely 18-month implementation programme from 2014 to 2015.

The British Woodworking Federation (BWF) has expressed concern at the added burden the new regulation would put on the joinery sector in the current market.

“Improvement in the health and safety of workers is to be admired, but in practical terms this must be set against the economic situation,” it said.

The BWF has asked members for their views for its input into government consultation on the issue.

More on this will appear in our Dust Extraction Special Focus in the next edition of TTJ.