Flour dust is a hazardous substance as defined under the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations (NI) 2003 (COSHH). Flour dust and enzymes containing additives such as amylase are the one of the most common causes of occupational asthma, exposure can occur in the baking and milling industries and kitchens.

In workplaces, the following circumstances may lead to unnecessary exposure to flour dust:

  • Bag emptying
  • Sieving
  • Weighing
  • Mixing
  • Dough making
  • Dusting
  • Disposing of empty flour bags
  • Sweeping up flour
  • Cleaning

Health Risks

Exposure to flour dust can lead to a number of occupational ill health effects:

  • Respiratory sensitisation and occupational asthma – Breathing in flour dust can cause a person to develop an allergic reaction (respiratory sensitisation). Once you’ve become sensitised to the flour dust, it can trigger asthma symptoms when you breathe it in (occupational asthma). You may have been at your place of work for weeks, months or even years before you start having asthma symptoms.
  • Irritation to the nose (rhinitis) - resulting in a runny nose.
  • Dermatitis - irritation to the skin

Prevention

When using flour you should first consider if it is possible to complete the task without creating risks to your health, by using a safer alternatives such as baking improvers in liquid, paste or low dust form and low dust flour.

Low dust flour can vastly reduce flour dust by up to 86% when sieving and 78% when tipping and pouring as well as lowering flour wastage. This is demonstrated in the Health and Safety Executive’s video Low Dust Flour.

Control measures may be very straightforward such as avoiding dry sweeping by using vacuums or wet cleaning. Other examples may include changes to the process or the way the task is carried out;

  • Enclose processes as much as possible to stop flour dust escaping and spreading around the workplace. E.g. If possible put a solid lid on mixers, use a filling nozzle that conducts the displaced air into the extraction, make sure that the filling nozzle does not spill flour when the bag is removed.
  • Consider where empty bags will be disposed and provide extraction.
  • Work gently - tip flour gently – never dump it, start mixers on a slow speed until wet and dry ingredients are combined.

Where exposure to flour dust cannot be prevented by changing the process or material, the dust should be extracted as close to where it is produced as possible through local exhaust ventilation (LEV). If this is not possible suitable respiratory protective equipment (RPE) should be used.

Resources

Key Legislation