Protection from flour dust a must for bakery workers

February 15, 2017

Photo of baker's hands and worktable

Photo credit: iStock.com/KucherAV

“Baker’s asthma” — as it’s known in the business — is a serious health problem that can affect workers in bakery, flour manufacturing, and food processing settings.

“Activities such as mixing, pouring, and weighing flour creates airborne flour dust, which workers may inhale,” reads Flour dust exposure, a risk advisory from WorkSafeBC.

“Workers exposed to flour dust may develop an allergy or sensitization after repeated exposures. Once sensitization occurs, exposure to even a small amount of flour dust can trigger an asthma attack or allergic reaction.”

Safety training in baking school

Martin Barnett is an instructor and program chair of the professional Baking and Pastry Arts program at Vancouver Island University. He’s also on the Board of Directors of the Baking Association of Canada.

I asked him if the issue of flour dust is covered in schools. Is it on the safety radar of the baking industry?

Martin says the issue of flour dust is “not on the official curriculum, as a stand-alone subject, but we do teach it in ‘safe working practices.’ ”

Martin knows first-hand what it’s like to work around flour dust. He says: “I myself am sensitive, and when I owned my bakery in Victoria I wore a mask. Now I use an inhalant on days that I know I am going to be mixing a lot.”

Of course, different prevention tactics will be called for, depending on the situation. Martin says most modern bakeries use extractor fans and workers are mandated — that is, “strongly encouraged” — to wear filtering facepiece respirators. Delivering flour by silo and using machines’ speed controls correctly can also help mitigate the risk.

WorkSafeBC’s Geoffrey Clark, senior occupational hygienist, says that many controls in the exposure control plan for flour dust are procedural or “administrative” and involve modifying work practices, rather than wearing respirators. He says: “Research has found that changing how bakers work can significantly reduce their exposures to flour dust.”

For much more information, see Exposure Control Plan for Flour Dust in Bakeries and Sample Respirator Program for Flour Dust Exposure, both published recently by WorkSafeBC. You can also learn more about flour dust on worksafebc.com.

Thanks to Martin for answering my questions about his work.

Keeping safe during repair and maintenance

February 08, 2017

Proper maintenance is an important part of workplace safety. We’ve heard this many times before, and I wrote about it in my post Training and equipment maintenance key to safety.

Photo of locked out power source

Photo credit: iStock.com/ArtboyAnimation

But it’s also critical to keep safety in mind while doing maintenance and repairs. This topic came up recently when I was talking with WorkSafeBC research coordinator Tracey Bates about what’s on today’s safety radar. Tracey pointed out that a lot of WorkSafeBC’s full investigations involved workers being killed or injured while performing repair or maintenance tasks.

I followed up on the conversation and asked Tracey for more information. She sent me a link to Safe maintenance in practice, published by the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, who ran a Safe Maintenance campaign back in 20102011.

The report describes initiatives in the workplace that show how to manage safety and health risks associated with maintenance. Tracey also sent me links to these incidents WorkSafeBC investigated.

Maintenance worker’s foot pushed into infeed rolls that were not locked out

Worker seriously injured by mower falling off jack stand

Worker trapped in pinch point of machine during maintenance

Screwdriver touches energized fuses, causing electric arc flash

Maintenance worker pinned by moving machine parts

I also wrote about a young worker who died when he was run over by a logging truck he was trying to repair last year. See Tragedy a reminder to secure vehicles before repairs and maintenance for more details on this very sad incident. In Lockout lacking, guard removed, I wrote about a man in England who was adjusting the rollers on a machine that makes metal shelving components from steel coil. The machine started accidentally and his high-vis vest and jacket were sucked into the rollers.

These examples serve as tragic reminders of what can go wrong during maintenance and repairs, in any industry. It can be so frustrating when something isn’t working properly  especially when it’s unexpected and we are under pressure but we need to keep safety top of mind no matter what.

Protection from flour dust a must for bakery workers

“Baker’s asthma” — as it’s known in the business — is a serious health problem that can affect workers in bakery, flour manufacturing, and food processing settings. “Activities such as mixing, pouring, and weighing flour creates airborne flour dust, which workers may inhale,” reads Flour dust exposure, a risk advisory from WorkSafeBC. “Workers exposed to flour dust […]

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