HSfB Blog

The hidden hazards of floor sanding

health & safety

Sanded floors are very popular at the moment and it’s a job that many keen DIYers take on themselves. There are obvious dangers to this kind of work, such as using relatively heavy automatic machinery, fast-moving sander belts, electrical hook-ups, heavy lifting, and the necessity to use various other hand tools.

The copious amounts of dust created are also clearly unpleasant, but worse than this they could contain hidden toxins, stirred up by the sanding process.


Many home improvement enthusiasts, and even professional contractors, are unaware of the potential dangers of restoring wood floors.


“There are real dangers to be aware of in the floor sanding process”, said Anthony Moldovanov of London’s Floor Sanding Experts. “Many in the industry just don’t take the need to be cautious seriously enough.”


He also said that it is vital professionally and morally to inform workers of the potential for toxins in a work space, as well as customers who will be living with residual toxins in the air after the job has been done.


What are the toxins?


Lead - Exposure to too much lead can lead to high blood pressure, anemia, kidney damage, infertility and even impotence, so it’s definitely something to avoid! Older buildings with floors that have not been renovated in some time could be cause for concern, as lead was used in varnishes and clear coats up to 1978, when manufacturers stopped using lead. Sanding can bring lead dust from such coatings into the atmosphere for workers and homeowners to inhale. You can read more about lead exposure from floor refinishing in this article.


Asbestos - The dangers of asbestos are widely known and significant, ranging from asbestosis to mesothelioma and lung cancer, which can be caused by inhaling a very small amount of this substance. Unfortunately it was a hugely popular construction material for most of the 20th century, meaning that old homes could contain this material. And again, if asbestos coatings have been used on wood flooring, sanding could incur some serious threats to health.


How to avoid hidden hazards


So far so grim, right? Well thankfully it’s not too hard to find out whether a floor is likely to contain toxins just beneath the surface. If you are working on the floors find out as much as you can about the house. If you’re the homeowner you may know when it was last sanded. If this was 1980 or earlier there could be lead under there.


There are also ways to test your flooring if you believe it may contain dangerous substances. If you’re using a professional firm and you’re concerned ask them to investigate for you.


Leaving it to the professionals is the best way to stay safe if you do have toxins in your flooring, as they should have the best ventilation and dust containment systems. Feel free to ask them if they are used to dealing with toxins and assessing wood flooring in this way, then you can rest assured the job will be done properly and safely, without putting you at any risk.


After wood flooring has been refinished make sure that residual dust has been properly cleaned up. Even ‘clean’ dust is detrimental to health if inhaled, so all  surfaces should be thoroughly vacuumed - even ceilings!

If you follow this advice you can renovate your flooring without putting yourself at risk. For professionals who feel they should know more about the hazards this course from the British Wood Flooring Association could be helpful.