There are tiny, dry particles in the air that can be produced when materials are, for example, cut, drilled, demolished, sanded or shovelled, these particles are known as dust. Flour dust is not always an obvious health hazard, the particles that can cause the most damage are often invisible to the naked eye and the health effects of exposure can take many years to develop.
Flour dust, and other products routinely used in the bakery industry, can have an adverse effect on health for employees, but also, in some instances, pose a serious safety risk.
Dust can harm our health in a number of ways:
- Breathing the dust into lungs can create breathing problems, such as asthma, which can take many years to develop.
- Swallowing dust can get into the digestive tract, where they can cause ill effects such as gastrointestinal tract irritation, or enter the bloodstream and produce ill effect in other organs and tissues.
- Contact with eyes and the skin can cause eye/skin damage or irritation.
Excessive dust within the atmosphere can, in some cases, pose a serious threat to life in the form of fire and explosion.
Some dusts are more hazardous than others, excessive and prolonged exposure to some types of dust have been linked to the development of health problems such as cancer or asthma. The HSE have identified Flour as a hazardous dust, of which is most common in the bakery industry.
The Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 places general duties on employers to ensure that their employees are not exposed to unnecessary risks to their health or safety in their working environment.
In addition, the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) 2002 Regulations were established to protect workers from exposure to hazardous materials. COSHH helps employers control risks by providing a framework underpinned by a risk assessment. Any steps to control exposure to dust should be proportionate to the actual risk to health.
Dust clouds within bakeries arise from throwing flour, disposing of empty flour bags, using brushes to clean up, bag emptying, sieving, dough making and dusting.
There are many ways in which we can control dust within the workplace (Bakeries) these are briefly summarised below:
- Protect yourself by ensuing extraction equipment is turned on (and working) and wear the correct respiratory protection equipment (RPE) for particularly dusty work. *All RPE should be of FFP3 standard and should fit properly.
- Avoid spillages – Work correctly by ensuring damaged ingredient bags are not used. Use a scoop to transfer flour and clean up spillages immediately.
- Load ingredients carefully and start mixers at a low speed to avoid raising dust.
- Avoid dust clouds when disposing of empty bags by rolling the bag downwards and away from yourself.
- Avoid creating cloud of dust when dusting by using dredgers or sprinklers.
- Clean up safely where possible, use a high-efficiency vacuum cleaner (Class M) or wet mop/cloth to clean.
- Report ill health symptoms to your line manager – Ill health symptoms can include a runny nose, runny eyes, wheezing, shortness of breath, sneezing or cough.
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