Flour dust at work can cause asthma

For one in ten of all adults who suffer from asthma, work is the cause. Bakers
are one of the most vulnerable groups, as flour and grain is the second biggest
cause of occupational asthma.

But bakers and their employers can do a lot to help prevent the illness. All
workers exposed to flour should have routine workplace health checks to ensure
early detection. If spotted early, complete recovery is likely; if not, the
lungs can become hypersensitive, leading to serious breathing difficulties,
which can stop people working.

Dr Hugh Wolfson, Occupational Hygienist at HSE, said:

"Asthma can be a hugely unpleasant and disabling illness and workers deserve
better protection from it. Bakers are particularly at risk, especially those
who work with flour for long periods. Although many bakeries, especially larger
ones, already provide effective controls, there is considerable scope for
improvement in the industry. The results of a recent survey, especially when
put together with the number of Improvement Notices served by our inspectors,
are disappointing."

A recent survey of 55 bakeries in the UK, conducted for the Advisory Committee
on Toxic Substances (ACTS), revealed a low level of compliance with the Control
of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations, and poor working
practices. Despite most (80%) bakeries confirming awareness that flour dust is
a respiratory sensitiser:

  • only 26% of bakeries with five or more employees had assessed the
    hazards and completed a written risk assessment;
  • only 27% of bakeries were aware of the Exposure Limits relating to flour
  • most bakeries were still using inappropriate work practices such as flour
    dusting by hand and cleaning by dry-brushing.

Dr Wolfson adds:

"But the good news is that employers can do a great deal to lower the risk of
asthma in the baking industry. Engineering controls such as dust extraction
equipment are the starting point - along with HSE's top ten tips for bakers,
COSHH Essentials guidance and routine health checks."

HSE's top ten tips, distributed to the baking industry as part of its guidance,
highlight the simple precautions that can be taken when handling flour.. For
example, bakers should:

  • use sprinklers or dredgers to spread dusting flour instead of by hand;
  • avoid spilling flour and when it is spilt, clean up immediately;
  • use vacuums instead of brushes to clear-up dust;
  • avoid raising dust when putting ingredients into mixers or handling used
  • start mixers on slow speed until wet and dry ingredients are combined.

Further Information

AplusA-online.de - Source: Health and Safety Executive (HSE)