The risks of flour dust exposure
Posted 11th December 2018
Flour dust is a daily occurrence in facilities including plant bakeries, craft bakeries, semi-automated craft bakeries, in-store bakeries, pizza and pastry manufacturing facilities and biscuit manufacturing which means that approximately 95,000 people working in the UK baking industry encounter it daily.
Flour dust has a legal limit called a ‘workplace exposure limit’ (WEL). WELs are set for substances that cause the most serious health effects such as Occupational Asthma.
For flour dust, the WEL is set at 10 mg/m3 (averaged over an 8-hour working period). In addition to this maximum exposure limit flour dust is classed as a respiratory sensitiser and therefore employers should make all efforts to reduce exposure to as low as reasonably practicable.
If these exposure limits are exceeded, it could damage the health of your workforce.
Keep your employees safe – some precautions to be put in place:
If you manage or operate a bakery or production facility involving processes with flour, its essential you keep your workforce safe for a number of reasons:
- To ensure you and they are abiding to HSE recommended regulations – to stay safe
- So the business doesn’t suffer any down time from staff absence through illness caused in the working environment.
Here are some precautions that your employees should adhere to when working with flour to reduce exposure to as low levels as possible:
- Handle flour and powdered products carefully. Dropping flour from a height or throwing with force will cause dust to be thrown up
- Ensure suitable dust extraction is available (LEV)
- Vacuum and wet cleaning should be used for housekeeping and spillages
- Avoid damage to ingredient bags
- Minimise the creation of airborne dust when folding and disposing of empty bags
- Use a scoop to transfer flour
- Use dredgers or sprinklers to spread dusting flour rather than hand throwing
- Minimise the use of dusting flour
- Start mixers on a slow speed until wet and dry ingredients are combined
- Take care to avoid raising dust when loading ingredients into mixers
- Open bags of flour carefully to avoid disrupting the contents until required
- Respirators should be available for highly dusty tasks.
Dangers of Flour Dust
Flour dust may look harmless, well in fact it can cause serious lung diseases like Asthma which can result in attacks of breathlessness and tightness in the chest.
Other side effects of using flour and inhaling its dust include:
- Irritation to the eyes (conjunctivitis), resulting in watering and painful eyes
- Irritation to the nose (rhinitis), resulting in a runny nose
- Occupational dermatitis, resulting in redness, itching and blistering of the skin
Once a person becomes sensitised to bakery dust, exposure to even a very small amount of it can bring on an asthmatic attack, it is then possible that the person will never be able to work in a bakery again.
How to assess dust levels and risk
The first step is to determine dust levels to which people are exposed. There are several ways of doing this:
- Referencing ‘typical exposure levels’
- Using a dust lamp
- Measuring airborne dust levels using sampling apparatus. This can be carried out by an occupational hygiene consultant - the British Occupational Hygiene Society maintains a directory of consultants who can carry out such assessments. Alternatively, trained in-house staff can send samples to a suitable laboratory for analysis. Measuring dust levels is the only method that can positively prove that you are below the WEL on any particular day.
Your legal responsibility as an employer
The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (COSHH) apply to flour dust and any other hazardous substances used in the workplace. To comply with COSHH you need to follow these steps:
- Assessing the risk to the health of your employees from flour dust, dust from other ingredients and any other hazardous substances
- Decide what precautions are needed
- Prevent or adequately control exposure
- Ensure that control measures are used and maintained
- Monitor exposure
- Carry out appropriate health surveillance and skin checks
- If required improve plant, equipment and working practices
- Ensure employees are properly informed, trained and supervised.
Health surveillance for respiratory issues
Flour dust and amylase in flour treatment improvers are respiratory sensitisers. It is therefore essential that health surveillance by employers is undertaken to enquire positively about the early symptoms of ill health. As a minimum, the following arrangements should be in place:
- Pre-employment screening that includes a questionnaire about existing or past asthma or chest illness - advise new starters about what to look out for and that they should report symptoms
- A questionnaire to be completed for all workers after employment at 6 weeks, 12 weeks (or similar intervals) and at least annually thereafter to enquire about any developing symptoms. The questionnaire must be administered by a responsible, trained person who must understand the purpose of the questionnaire, confidentiality requirements and what records must be kept
- You must also identify a named occupational health professional or company, who can advise on any adverse findings from the questionnaire and who can plan for any further investigation where necessary.
How we can help
If you require support with any of the above call Euro Environmental today. We can offer advice on workplace exposure limits and complete the assessment(s) for you – supplying reports showing the findings.
Contact us via calling: 0870 7019170