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Control measures

Exposure to flour dust led to £159,000 fine

A bakery has received a heavy fine for exposing its employees to flour dust. Why was this dangerous and what should the employer have done to prevent exposure?

The bakery in Scarborough was investigated after some of its employees were diagnosed with occupational asthma. The HSE’s investigation found that employees had been consistently exposed to health risks over a period of 14 years because their employer had not put any effective control measures in place to prevent the dust becoming airborne and employees breathing it in.

Flour dust is a respiratory sensitiser and the second most common cause of occupational asthma, which can permanently affect the sufferer’s health and quality of life. It can also cause dermatitis. The need to control exposure to flour dust in the relevant industries (bakeries, flour mills, kitchens, etc.) is well known. This can be achieved by a combination of methods, including training staff to work without raising dust clouds where possible, for example using wet cleaning methods to clear up flour or an industrial vacuum cleaner (never dry-sweeping). Dust extraction and/or respiratory protective equipment should be used for dusty tasks. Health surveillance needs to be in place to monitor those who work with flour so any health effects can be picked up early.

The bakery pleaded guilty to breaching its duty to safeguard the health and safety of its employees under s. 2(1) Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. It was fined over £159,000 and ordered to pay more than £4,500 in costs.

Exposure to flour dust can cause occupational asthma. Employers can control their employees’ exposure to it in a number of ways and must monitor their workers’ health. This employer failed to protect its employees by having no measures in place, causing them serious harm.

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