Asthma in the Workplace: Baker’s Asthma

Baker’s asthma is a condition that is caused by inhaling different types of flour, most usually wheat flour.It is one of the most common types of occupational asthma suffered in the UK, however this should not be the case.

Scientifically-based prevention methods have been known for a very long time, so asthma in bakers should not be as common as it is, and should not be viewed as simply ‘part of the job’.

In fact, there should always be effective protection in workplaces such as bakeries and baked goods productions factories. If there is no protection in place, baker’s asthma can have a long-lasting impact on employees’ lives.

If you work with or around flour and are suffering from breathing difficulties, we may be able to help you pursue a claim against your employer.


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What Causes Baker's Asthma?

Baker’s asthma is primarily caused inhaling flour on a regular basis.

Additives that are sometimes used in the baking process, such as enzyme-based dough improvers, can cause asthma to develop in baker workers too.

If you work in a role where you are frequently required to weigh, sieve and mix ingredients, such as dough making, bread/cake forming and bread/cake baking, you are at high risk of developing asthma.

The very first instances of baker’s asthma date back to the Roman period, when it was documented that bakery workers would cover their faces to prevent themselves from struggling to breathe.

If it has been known for so long that exposure to flour and flour dusts  can cause respiratory illnesses, employers today have no grounds to say that they aren’t aware of the causes of occupational asthma.

What are Symptoms of Occupational Asthma?

There are a range of symptoms associated with the condition. These symptoms include:

  • Wheezing
  • Coughing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Restricted chest movement

When you first begin to suffer from the condition, these symptoms may only affect you whilst you are working around flour and immediately afterwards. However, if you continue to be exposed to flour,  your symptoms may become constant and affect you even when you haven’t been in contact with flour recently.

For some people, there may be some earlier symptoms of baker’s asthma that indicate they’re being affected by exposure to flour. These early symptoms include:

  • Rhinitis – inflammation of the inside of the nose causing itching and sneezing
  • Dermatitis – swollen, sore and red skin
  • Conjunctivitis – inflammation or swelling of eyelid tissue

These symptoms can indicate that your body is having a reaction to the flour you are exposed to at work. The eyes, skin and nose are sometimes visibly affected before the flour starts to affect your lungs and airways because the flour reaches external sites first.

If you suffer from any of the symptoms above due to your workplace, contact our team today for legal advice.

Asthma in the Workplace: Bakeries

Asthma caused in the workplace can be prevented – it isn’t something you have to accept as part of your job. Employers have a duty to protect all employees from developing work-related asthma and other industrial diseases.

In bakeries – or any workplace where exposure to flour and other substances that can cause asthma – employers may try to prevent their staff from developing asthma by implementing proper dust control. Adequate dust controls include local exhaust ventilation, appropriate masks and introducing a good work practice. General dilution ventilation systems are not effective enough to control dust and prevent baker’s asthma in workers.

Local exhaust ventilation should be in place nearby to flour release points, such as:

  • Weighing stations,
  • Dough making machines,
  • Dough brakes, and
  • Bread machines

Good work practice includes:

  • Emptying and handling flour bags carefully
  • Vacuum or wet cleaning methods being used instead of pressurised air methods or sweeping
  • Starting mixing machinery on slow until wet and dry ingredients are fully combined

Employers should always encourage these examples of good practice and enforce them through properly training all staff.

Research has found that whilst respirators can reduce the amount of flour bakery employees inhale, they cannot be seen as a long-term solution. They tend to hinder movement, are uncomfortable to wear and cause staff to overheat, especially in hot work environments such as near ovens.

Can I Claim for Baker's Asthma Compensation?

You may have not realised it is possible to make a claim for compensation if you’re suffering from occupational asthma, however you may be able to, as the condition can have a lasting impact on your life.

For example, if your symptoms become too severe, you may have to completely change your job and could have to retrain and/or earn less as a result. Even if your asthma is not so bad that you have to leave your job, you might have to take time off temporarily or pay for prescriptions to help with your asthma, which you deserve to be compensated for.

To reduce the amount of instances of occupational asthma or work exacerbated asthma, employers should take steps to identify workers in bakeries or similar environments who are at risk of developing the condition by employing occupational health services to conduct workplace surveys. This, in addition to encouraging good workplace practice and providing effective dust control equipment, can prevent the condition from developing or worsening.

Have you been diagnosed with occupational asthma as a result of exposure to flour at work? We could help you.

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