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Flour Dust Exposure & Risk to Health

What is flour dust?

According to EH40/2005 Workplace exposure limits: “Flour dust is taken to be finely ground particles of cereals or pulses (including contaminants) that result from any grinding process and from any subsequent handling and use of that ‘flour’. Any additives (eg flour improvers) are included in this definition only after they have been added to the final product mix.”

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) list flour dust and enzymes containing additives such as amylase are the second most common cause of occupational asthma whilst also causing dermatitis. Flour dust has been set a Workplace Exposure Limit (WEL) comprising a long-term exposure limit of 10 mg/m3 (averaged over 8 hours) and a short-term exposure limit of 30 mg/m3 (averaged over 15 minutes). Due to flour dust being classified as a respiratory sensitiser (capable of causing occupational asthma), exposure must be reduced to levels as low as reasonably practicable (ALARP). The HSE considers that less than 2 mg/m3 is usually achievable when adopting best practices.

Aside from the risk of inhalation exposure, there is also the risk of explosion! Fine dust particles that are not controlled can easily ignite and cause a series of explosions through the factory. Industrial fire and explosion hazards are controlled through the application of DSEAR (the Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations) 2002.

Spotting the signs of Occupational Asthma!

The onset of occupational asthma can be indicated by:

· recurring sore or watering eyes.

· recurring blocked or running nose.

· bouts of coughing.

· chest tightness.

· wheezing.

· any persistent history of chest problems.

· symptoms improving during weekends or holidays.

All employees exposed to an asthmagen require suitable health surveillance. This is due to the severity of occupational asthma as a major occupational health problem and the fact that early detection can reduce a person’s risk of developing full-blown asthma.

The full details of health surveillance requirements are set out in COSHH and the HSE has produced a simple guidance document in COSHH Essentials: COSHH G402: Health surveillance for occupational asthma.

How can exposure to flour dust be controlled?

There are many changes that can be made to the process of working with flour that will dramatically reduce the levels of airborne dust. Some examples of the precautions you should consider are:

· Provide suitable local exhaust ventilation (LEV) for high dust generating work processes.

· Use non-stick surfaces where possible to stop dough sticking.

· Reduce the height at which flour is tipped when sifting, mixing or weighing.

· Avoid dry sweeping of flour. Instead, use an industrial vacuum cleaner with suitable HEPA filtration or by means of wet cleaning such as mopping.

· Avoid compressed air for cleaning excess dust.

· Minimise the creation of airborne dust when folding and disposing of empty bags.

· Use a scoop to transfer flour and always gently tip.

· Use dredgers or sprinklers to spread dusting flour rather than hand throwing.

· Start mixers on a slow speed until wet and dry ingredients are combined.

· Consider respirators as a last resort and in combination with other controls.

In addition to the above controls, the HSE has been carrying out testing of two low-dust flour products shown in the video below. One has added oil to reduce the dustiness whilst the other has gone through a hydro-thermal refining process where the finer flour particles are removed. Both were found to significantly reduce the dust produced whilst carrying out sieving and tipping process. The reduction in dust means less flour is wasted and less time is spent cleaning!


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At Blue Turtle Ltd, we provide a range of occupational hygiene monitoring services and can help you carry out your occupational health risk assessment. We can also help you to select the optimum control measures, better understand your local exhaust ventilation systems through LEV examination and testing services and carry out occupational exposure monitoring / personal exposure monitoring services to ensure you meet your legal obligations under the COSHH Regulations.

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