Lathe Safety Series, Part 1 - Respiratory Safety
This month, we will be beginning a series of tutorials regarding safety at the lathe. In months to come, we'll be covering a wide variety of topics. Much of this material is common sense, while some information may come as a bit of a surprise.
Always keep in mind the old saying that "safety is no accident!" Simply knowing, while not following safety procedures is of no benefit. All too often, wood turners can develop serious breathing disorders, injured eyes, broken bones, serious cuts, bruises, and a variety of other ailments. Safety should be taken seriously. This is important especially to beginners, as it is much easier to develop good habits in the beginning than it is to fix bad habits in the future.
Let's begin this month by discussing respiratory safety at the lathe. Wood dust, as well as oils or fungi inside wood, can lead to serious respiratory issues. In some cases, improper safety precautions over the years have led wood turners to develop asthma and lung cancer. At the very least, wood dust can cause minor to moderate sinus and breathing issues in most anyone. In order to protect yourself as well as possible, here are four major things which should be taken into consideration in your work area:
Wear Breathing Protection -
Adequate breathing protection is the first, and most important line of defense against respiratory damage. Keep in mind that the breathing protection should not only be blocking dust particles, it should also be filtering contaminants (such as wood oils and/or fungal spores which might be present in spalted woods). Paper dust masks are effective at blocking most dust and fungi, but may not be effective for blocking oil vapors. Paper masks are only recommended for us over the short term, and in woods which do not contain potentially hazardous oils. Cartridge style filtrations masks provide good protection from all of these things, so long as they are fitted with an "organic vapor" style of cartridge. The third, and possibly safest solution, is a powered/unpowered filtration helmet. These can be quite costly, but provide the greatest level of protection. If shopping around for a dust-filtering helmet, make sure to look for one that appears heavy enough to withstand the impact of something coming off of the lathe, as well as one that has an air intake on the back side (this will help reduce the frequency with which you will need to change out/clean the filter unit)
Provide Adequate Workspace Ventilation -
Keeping your work space well-ventilated will greatly reduce the effects of airborne contaminants. Removing dust and organic material from the air space quickly and effectively will slow the clogging of dust masks and replaceable filters used for personal breathing protection. Fans should not be used to simply circulate air. They typically only keep particles airborne, creating more issues instead of resolving them. A dust collection system can remove a large amount of material, and will filter the air before returning it back into the work space. Air filtration units will not remove large material, but will filter out most of the finer materials in the air. A fan system can be used, but works best only when used to blow air directly into an outdoor area, thereby pushing most material out of the workshop. Use caution if using a fan system, however, and opt for an "explosion-proof" type fan which is suited for moving airbone materials. Dry sawdust is extremely flammable and quite explosive when mixed with air. The last thing you'd want would be a fire due to a spark created by friction or faulty wiring within a fan!
Maintain a Clean Workspace -
Cleaning up around the lathe on a regular basis is a good idea. Any material which settles into your workspace that isn't removed through filtration or ventilation will continually get stirred up and mixed back into the air. Using a dust collector or vacuum cleaner after each turning session will improve air quality, and increase the lifespan of any air filters you have in use.
Choose Wood Wisely -
Before using woods which you are unfamiliar with, consider doing some prior research into any toxicity the wood may be known for. Some woods are well known for causing respiratory issues, while others may be very safe to use.
The moisture content of wood should also be considered when turning. Green/undried wood produces far less fine dust than dried wood. If you have the ability to use green wood in your projects, you'll greatly reduce the amount of dust and airbone materials in your work space.