The dust from flour is the second highest cause of occupational asthma and it is particularly prevalent among certain professions such as bakers, flour mill operators of kitchen workers. In recent years the addition of certain enzymes to flour with the aim of increasing the baking process have also contributed to sensitisation and the development of baker’s asthma.
The HSE documented a case where a 51 year bakery worker developed occupational asthma as a consequence of his workplace.
He worked as a maintenance fitter at a bakery for 20 years, did not smoke and did not have a history of asthma. Over the last 15 years of his work he had complained of breathlessness, coughing, wheezing, and red watery eyes whilst at work. The symptoms were not seasonal and they appeared to ease when away from the workplace.
Asthma was diagnosed in the worker, but a connection was not made between the disease and his workplace – this was linked by his trade union representative.
The HSE conducted a number of tests which culminated in showing that the workers’ lung function was considerable better at weekends (away from work) and that he was suffering from a flour dust allergy which contributed to his development of occupational asthma.
After the HSE investigation, the worker was given work duties in less dusty areas of the workplace, dust extraction techniques were employed to a greater extent and respiratory protective equipment was provided.
Unfortunately, additional cases were uncovered which showed that two other workers were suffering from flour dust allergies. As these cases were picked up relatively quickly the workers’ health did not deteriorate as badly as the initial worker. However, all three workers require medicines to control their conditions and they are likely to suffer with asthma for the rest of their lives to varying degrees.