CoSHH Health Hazards in the Baking Industry

Published: 10th June 2010
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One industry which has the highest rate of occupational asthma is the baking industry. Each year, 90 new cases per 100,000 workers are diagnosed.

Substances used in baking which are hazardous to health include flour dust, improver dusts containing enzymes and flavour enhancers. Common ingredients used in flour and enzymes containing certain additives are the second most common cause of occupational asthma. Once a worker has become sensitised to flour dust exposure they are more vulnerable to having asthma attacks. These dangers affect not only those working in bakeries but those working in flour mills and kitchens also.

A case study reported the findings of a 51 year old male bakery maintenance fitter. He had worked in the bakery for 20 years and prior to working there had never had asthma and had never smoked.

Over a 15 year period, he suffered from breathlessness, wheezing and coughing which was gradually getting worse each year. His eyes would frequently become red and watery while at work and he would have bouts of sneezing. He had also noticed that when he was away from work his symptoms dramatically reduced.

Eventually, after discussions with a trade union representative, it was suggested that the worker had occupational asthma. A series of tests followed, and they showed that the worker's lung function was significantly improved at weekends. Later tests showed an allergy to flour dust.

As a result of these tests, the management at his place of work arranged for him to work in a less dusty area. They also improved dust extraction equipment and gave him appropriate respiratory protective equipment. Medicine has also helped improve his symptoms, however, his health is still poor due to chronic asthma and he receives disability benefit as a result of this.

It is imperative that employers are aware of CoSHH legislation in relation to the effects of inhaling flour dust and the health implications. Exposure must be well below the WEL of 10mg/m3.

Employees should be protected by using control measures such as dust extraction and personal protective equipment.

Workers also need to avoid raising clouds of dust which may occur when throwing flour, disposing of empty flour bags and from sieving and dough making. It would be advisable to avoid sweeping up if possible and instead clean up using wet methods or an industrial vacuum cleaner.

Skin checks should also be made as dermatitis is another common health hazard resulting from certain bakery tasks.

Workers require regular health surveillance.


Dale Allen develops systems and online software to help you succeed in HSE CoSHH compliance. Find out more about how to effectively manage and produce a compliant HSE CoSHH assessment free with the UK's leading CoSHH compliance authority, COSHH365.

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