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HSE Make Prevention of Occupational Asthma and Musculoskeletal Injuries a Priority


This year, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has identified the prevention of lung impairment and musculoskeletal injuries as major priorities.

The HSE has further identified that the above risks are particularly relevant to the bakery industry, as asthma can be caused by exposure to flour dust in bakeries and significant manual handling activities occur within the sector.  Hence the HSE is to prioritise unannounced and proactive inspections in the food manufacturing sector and in particular the bakeries.

Their aim will be to review and improve health and safety standards and to reduce levels of workplace ill-health and risks to workers. If contraventions are found legal action could follow, with the potential for large fines as evidenced by the   recent fines issued under the sentencing guidelines.

These same risks do of course exist in hospitality, as pastry sections are common place. Evidence of this, is that a school cook was awarded £200,000 in damages when she developed breathing problems after working with flour in the school kitchen. No controls for flour dust were in place and there was poor ventilation. This led to her suffering from severe asthma and retiring on health grounds.

This case reveals the severity of the issue and highlights the fact that if you do not comply with stringent health and safety legislation in your business, your staff could be at risk and you could incur severe penalties.


Preventing occupational asthma

To prevent occupational asthma, it is crucial that you minimise exposure to flour and dust. In bakeries and pastry areas, it is essential that chefs work carefully to avoid raising clouds of dust and this includes starting mixers on lower speed.

Peter Christopher-Ohrt, Managing Director Technical Services, Food Alert Ltd, comments: “It is the duty of business owners to provide effective and reliable dust extraction, as well as respirator filters for dusty tasks. You must also provide your staff with regular health and safety training, particularly with regards to dust exposure in the workplace.”

“You must establish if anyone has asthma by asking employees if they have breathing difficulties. Arrange for medical checks and, if asthma exists, health surveillance should be put in place.”

Preventing musculoskeletal injuries

Manual handling is the most common cause of over 7-day injuries. So, what can you do to protect your employees from injury and prevent unwanted musculoskeletal injuries?

Peter suggests: “Firstly, identify the heaviest items which need to be lifted or moved in your business. If possible do away with the lifting and carrying by providing a trolley and specialist machinery. If this is not possible lower the risk from manual handling by reducing the size of the sacks or loads or by having more than one person undertake the task. It is imperative that staff are trained on correct lifting techniques.”

All food businesses must be prepared for more stringent inspections from the HSE. The inspections will ensure measures are being taken by those responsible to protect workers against health risks and HSE and will not hesitate to use enforcement to bring about improvements if required. HSE insists that such ill-health can be prevented when organisations have proper risk control systems in place.

For further information and expert advice on how to prevent occupational asthma and musculoskeletal injuries, if you are a customer, contact our Advice Line or call us on 020 7244 1900 or email

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