Regulatory Developments

Woodcutting Operations Get New Rules in CA

Two revised Cal/OSHA rules took effect in California at the beginning of July. Although the rulemaking processes for the two rules were separate, they may hit the same group of employers, since one rule expands guarding requirements for underhung saws, and the other reduces the permissible exposure limit for wood dusts.

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Underhung Saws

“Underhung saws,” including inverted swing cutoff saws and jump saws, are circular woodworking saws where the blade emerges from underneath the stock or table and swings or slides upward to make the cut. In reviewing the guarding requirements for underhung saws found in General Industry Safety Orders (GISO) Section 4306, the Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board (OSHSB) staff identified seven injuries to California workers from 2001–2009 that resulted from contact with the point of operation. Workers reportedly came in contact with the point of operation as a result of either the absence of or ineffectiveness of the point-of-operation guarding. In addition, a U.S. Department of Labor inspection report citing a 1995 incident that took place in California described an employee’s fingers being amputated despite the fact that the worker had been trained, and the blade of the saw was guarded as required by Section 4306.

The guarding requirements of Section 4306 were performance-based and did not specifically require point-of-operation guarding. So the OSHSB has amended the standard to require that “the point of operation shall be guarded in a manner that will prevent the hands of the operator from entering the point of operation and coming in contact with the blade as the blade ascends, cuts the stock and drops below the table surface.”

Wood Dust and Western Red Cedar

Cal/OSHA’s permissible exposure limits (PELs) are found in GISO Section 5155, Airborne Contaminants. California periodically amends the airborne contaminants table (Table AC-1) in Section 5155 based on updated hazard information. The PEL for wood dust and western red cedar has been under discussion since 2009 and was updated in April 2017, with an effective date of July 1, 2017. According to the OSHSB, the change to the PEL for wood dust will result in improved lung function and fewer respiratory symptoms for workers in the wood industry, as well as reducing workers’ risk of developing cancer. The change to the PEL for western red cedar will protect exposed workers from the development of occupational asthma.

In the revised Table AC-1:

  • The existing PEL for wood dust has been reduced from an 8-hour time-weighted average (TWA) of 5 milligrams per cubic meter of air (mg/m3) to 1 mg/m3 total particulate mass.
  • The existing 15-minute short-term exposure limit for wood dust has been reduced from 10 mg/m3 to 5 mg/m3 total particulate mass.
  • The existing PEL for western red cedar has been reduced from an 8-hour TWA of 2.5 mg/m3 to 0.5 mg/m3 total particulate mass.
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