The Hazards of Waxing

January 6, 20103
Typical wax cabin used by teams on the World Cup circuit
Typical wax cabin used by teams on the World Cup (photo:

There have been three recent articles on addressing the issues of the health risks taken by wax technicians when using fluorinated wax. The first is about a report published by Norway’s national insitute of occupational health, titled “Chemical exposure and effects on the respiratory system among professional wax technicians“. The second is about comments made by the head of research and development at Swix wax, Lars Karlöf, in response to the study.  The third is about a ventilation specialist who has invented a prototype which improves the work environment of a wax technician such that they can wax the skis using any type of wax without needing a mask or other safety equipment. 

STAMI Report

A report from the National Institute of Occupational Health (STAMI) was published on Monday.The report concluded that fluorine compounds accumulate in the body and remain in the blood for years. Scientists are uncertain about long-term effects, but recommend that anyone using fluoride powder exercise caution.  The powder emits dust and gases both by heating with an iron and brushing.

Professional wax technicians have long been concerned with the work environment of the typical waxing trailer. Norwegian Biathlete Team physician, Baard I. Freberg, is a PhD candidate at STAMI and has been visiting the waxing crew during the project.

“Wax technicians came to me with vague complaints. They felt bad after they had worked with fluoride powder. I felt it was my duty as a doctor to warn them that something could be wrong,” Freberg told Norway’s broadcasting station, NRK.

“We recommend that all technicians use protective gear when they use such a powder.  Neither the researchers or others can determine the long-term effects of fluoride compounds.  We have shown that the substances are stored in the body.  Something more than that we can not say,” adds the team doctor.

Common symptoms among technicians who have been in contact with the powder are vomiting, dizziness, and breathing problems.

 47 technicians from nine nations participated in the STAMI study by giving blood and breath samples over a period of two years.

Wax formula
Fluoro wax formula

Head of Development for Swix Wax Sees No Reason To Be Worried

Lars Karlof, head of research and development at Swix, is not surprised at the recent report published by STAMI.

“Work on this report has been going on for several years. . . so I cannot say that this is new information, “ said Karlof.

“What is new is the amount of dust in the waxing cabins and the size of the particles.

Karlof thinks that the focus should be on improving the work environment and that there should be more education in order to make the wax technicians aware of the danger of particulate matter.

On his company’s behalf, Karlof thinks they are doing the things necessary for such awareness. He points out that Swix is already following the rules and guidelines set by authorities and that warnings and safety information is posted on their website.

“I’m not worried about the harmful effects,” said Karlof, “If a user of our products follows the instructions provided on our website I see no reason to be worried.”

Karlof recommends, “If one does not have adequate ventilation in the wax cabin they should have a face mask with two-point extraction (overface mask with a P3AB filter). Otherwise, I can say that in general it helps to have an orderly and neat workplace, and that one should not eat and drink in the waxing area.”

Pete Vordenberg and Trond Nysted double up to brush out a ski - in a well ventilated area
Pete Vordenberg and Trond Nysted double up to brush out a ski - in a well ventilated area

Karlof also does not see a reason from dissuading people from the profession of wax technician.

“If one is interested in waxing skis, I certainly think that one can make the choice to be a professional wax technician.  Swix believes that the suppliers and teams must work together to raise awareness of a good working environment in the waxing cabins.”

After Two Years, A Prototype

Tor Aahjem had several years of experience working in the ventilation industry when he first heard, through the media in Norway, that there was a problem with the work environment of a wax technician.  Aahjem is from the town of Vesnes, which is in the Møre og Romsdal region of Norway.

He had no expertise in waxing, but he got in contact with people in the skiing and waxing business to learn more about the problem, and heard from them that the solutions available today are just not good enough.

After hearing of the need for improvement in the waxing environment, Aahjem decided to attend the Norwegian National Championships in Trondheim in 2008 to survey the situation himself.

Aahjem would not say how bad he thought the situation was during his visit, instead he used very diplomatic language to say that there could be a much better work situation than the one currently in place.

 “With my experience in the ventilation industry I saw that there was an obvious need for improvement,” said Aahjem, “and I was motivated to tackle the challenge.”

After several years of working, Aahjem finally came up with a prototype which he explains will improve the environment for the wax technicians through ventilation so that the technicians, even without a mask or other safety equipment, do not have to worry about the fumes.

 The product is not finalized, but Aahjem is hoping it will be on the market by this winter.  He does not have a patent yet, so he is keeping the details of his product under wraps while in negotiations with several potential partners.

Before launching his product, Aahjem is keeping the customer in mind.  It will not be a cheap product, so will be marketed more toward those who are serious about skiing and who wax multiple pairs of skis on a regular basis.  However, Aahjem is also trying to keep it affordable for ordinary people and sports clubs, and says it will not be as high as the 100,000 kroner range (17,000 USD).

The product will provide for a better work environment for those that wax skis because they will not have to sacrifice their health while using the best wax combination possible.

Aahjem says that he cannot guarantee anything yet, but that his product is “a major step in the right direction in terms of the working environment of a wax technician.”

translated from articles “Jeg har jobbet i to år med prototypen” on 1-5-10″, “Skismøring kan gi alvorlig sykdom” on 12-20-09 and “Er ikke bekymret for skadevirkningene av skismørning” on 12-22-09

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  • nordicmatt

    January 6, 2010 at 2:45 am

    Engineering (ventilation) controls are ALWAYS the first to be implemented in the hierarchy of controls. Respiratory protection is the last choice. For the most part, they are generally abused in the workplace, you MUST be clean-shaven because the respirator WILL leak. One can easily construct a local exhaust ventilation with an in-line duct fan, some flexible ducting, and a some safety wire or other apparatus to attach it to a waxing iron. The whole set-up is a few hundred bucks. May have to do a little electrical work for power and create an exterior wall penetration that exhausts to the outside. Can probably attach a cyclone of some type to spin-out particulate from brushing. Self-contained welding fume extractors can also be modified to perform the same operation. No patent necessary.

  • Ben Arians

    January 7, 2010 at 3:19 am

    Matthew Pauli, is that you? 😉

  • baard i freberg

    January 10, 2011 at 9:35 am

    Dr Freberg here ! We work further on with the project, and in Holmenkollen /Oslo new ventilation systems areinstalled. Yet, we do not know how the systems work, but this is a start and a “signal” to the rest of the skiing-world:That the waxers have a right to a normal good work environment! best regards Mr Baard I Freberg, MD and PhD candidate.

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