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Success Stories

Industrial Hygiene Success Story

Case 1: Wood Furniture Survey (SIC 2499)

Michelle Dunham

In April 2000, an industrial hygienist from the Georgia Tech Safety and Health Consultation Program visited a large hard wood furniture manufacturing company with approximately 250 employees. Representative air monitoring for hard wood dust and noise was conducted throughout the facility.

The health hazards associated with exposure to wood dust include eye irritation, dermatitis, and asthma. Some hard woods such as beech and oak have been classified as A1 carcinogens, which are confirmed human carcinogens.

Results of air monitoring indicted that employees' exposures to wood dust exceeded the OSHA PEL of 15mg/m3 (as total dust) and the ACGIH TLV of 1 mg/m3 in several areas of the facility. In some cases wood dust exposures even exceeded 105 mg/m3. Employees in the facility did not wear respirators, and dust collection systems were not utilized to help control exposures. If the wood dust levels were not reduced, then respirators would be required (prior to the monitoring, they were only voluntary). Noise monitoring results revealed that several employees were exposed to noise levels in excess of the OSHA PEL of 90 dBA, and numerous other health hazards were identified during the survey. It was also noted that the company had not completed many of OSHA's required safety and health programs such as hazard communication, respiratory protection, personal protective equipment, and hearing conservation.

Following the initial survey, the company, concerned by their lack of knowledge in health and safety, hired a safety and health director to address the identified health hazards and to develop a comprehensive safety and health program for the facility. Because of the high wood dust concentrations identified during the initial industrial hygiene survey, the company installed dust collection systems and modified employees' work practices. Follow-up air monitoring for wood dust indicated that these control measures had reduced wood dust levels by greater than 95%. The company was also able to reduce some of their employee's noise exposures by 5 to 10 decibels by adding engineering controls. Additionally, the company corrected all other health and safety hazards identified during the initial survey.

The reductions in wood dust exposure significantly impacted both the workers and the employer. The wood dust exposures were reduced to levels below the OSHA PEL and the noise levels were decreased in some areas of the facility. Employees are no longer required to wear respirators and some are not required to wear hearing protection, which has improved employee morale. The noise reduction has eased communication in the production areas. The company benefits by reducing the amount of time spent on respirator training and respirator program management and also is more cost effective through a reduction in the number of respirator used by employees. Thus, implementing engineering controls improved the working conditions and reduced overhead costs.