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Managing Flour Dust in the Workplace: Effective Control Measures 

02/08/2023by admin0Read: 4 minutes

Flour dust (from grains such as oats, wheat, and barley) is a common occupational hazard faced by various industries, particularly bakeries, food processing facilities, and flour mills. Flour dust poses a significant threat to workers’ health, leading to respiratory issues such as asthma and can potentially be an explosive hazard.

With increasing awareness of workplace safety, it is essential for Australian businesses that are into baking, flour processing, flour mills etc., to implement effective control measures to manage flour dust in the workplace.

This article discusses practical strategies and solutions to help businesses reduce the risks associated with flour dust exposure.

Where Might One Be Exposed to Grain Dust?

Vast quantities of grains are produced, imported, exported and processed in Australia. Grains pass through a large number of handling operations and the generation of dust is therefore widespread across the supply chain from agriculture production to processing of the grains

Industry sectors:

  • agriculture;
  • flour mills and food factories;
  • animal feed mills, feed blenders and feed compounders;
  • maltings, breweries and distilleries;
  • docks and grain terminals;
  • commercial stores; and
  • transportation of grain.

Processes that create grain dust include:

  • harvesting grain and transferring grain into trailers;
  • cleaning, dressing and drying grain;
  • moving grain in a grain store;
  • transferring grain in or out of grain stores;
  • milling and mixing dry grain;
  • cleaning of buildings, vehicles, plants and equipment using compressed air or by manual/mechanical sweeping, where grains are stored or passing through; and
  • silo cleaning.

Symptoms of Flour Dust Exposure

Exposure to flour dust in the workplace can lead to various symptoms, particularly when it is inhaled or comes into contact with the skin. Flour Dust inhalation can cause Occupational asthma, Baker’s Lung, lung cancer and other serious complications to the exposed workers

Here are some common symptoms of flour dust exposure:

1. Respiratory Symptoms:

  • Coughing
  • Wheezing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest tightness
  • Asthma-like symptoms
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Sneezing

2. Allergic Reactions:

  • Itchy or watery eyes
  • Skin rashes or hives
  • Skin irritation or redness
  • Itchy throat or nose

3. Irritation and Discomfort:

  • Irritated or dry throat
  • Irritated or itchy skin
  • Dry, irritated, or inflamed eyes
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue or tiredness

It’s important to note that the severity of symptoms can vary depending on the individual’s sensitivity to flour dust, the concentration of dust in the air, and the duration and frequency of exposure. Some individuals may experience more severe reactions, while others may have milder or no symptoms at all.

Workers who do manual labour without using any protective equipment in the floor mills, or the ones who work in the bakery and do not use masks or gloves, are more prone to getting affected by flour dust.

Hence, Australian businesses are obligated as per regulations to take strict precautions and implement control measures to safeguard the safety and health of workers.

Workplace Exposure Standard for Flour Dust

As per Safe Work Australia, a TWA of 4 mg/m3 is recommended to protect against respiratory effects and sensitisation in exposed workers. As grain dust are sensitiser keeping the exposure well below the exposure standard is highly recommended.

The flour dust (from grains such as oats, wheat, and barley) should be kept below the standard exposure level to promote the occupational health and safety of workers.

Control Measures for Flour Dust Exposure

Safe Work Australia provides guidelines on effective control measures for all flour dust. A hierarchy of measures is given and needs to be followed in the same order to ensure effective control and prevention of flour dust.

Following are the steps as per the hierarchy given:

1. Risk Assessment:

The first step in managing flour dust is conducting a thorough risk assessment to identify potential hazards, assess their risk potential and determine the appropriate control measures.

Conducting regular risk assessments will ensure that all possible risks are addressed and that the required safety measures are in place. This includes evaluating the work environment, production processes, equipment, and working practices that potentially lead to flour dust exposure.

2. Isolation

Employers should isolate areas where activities related to flour processing take place, from the rest employees and workspaces in the organisation. Workers exposed to flour dust should be isolated from others.

3. Substitution

Organisations should substitute processes involved in the processing of flour wherever possible to reduce flour dust or exposure to it. It is advised to prevent the spilling of flour that leads to flour dust.

4. Engineering Control

a) Implementing Dust Containment Systems:

Investing in effective dust containment systems such as high-efficiency extraction hoods or local exhaust ventilation (LEV) systems helps eliminate flour dust at its source. By capturing airborne particles before they spread throughout the workplace, these systems significantly reduce the amount of flour dust inhaled by workers. It’s essential to clean and maintain these systems regularly to ensure their efficiency over time.

b) Enclosed Systems and Automated Processes:

Implement enclosed equipment and automated handling systems to minimize the release of flour dust into the work environment.

c) Proper Storage and Handling of Flour:

Improper storage and handling procedures can contribute to increased exposure levels of flour dust in the workplace. Store raw materials in sealed silos or containers, which minimizes potential dust releases. Implement policies to reduce excessive stockpiling and ensure that all storage areas are routinely inspected and cleaned.

5. Administrative Controls:

a) Workplace Design and Layout:

Optimise the layout of the workplace to minimize the accumulation and dispersion of flour dust. Separate dusty areas from clean areas and ensure proper ventilation throughout the workspace.

b) Implementing Good Housekeeping Practices:

Promote a clean workplace culture with good housekeeping practices including routine cleaning programs that focus on removing settled dust and potential accumulation areas. Ensure that floors are vacuumed rather than swept or blown which redistributes the dust back into the air. Use wet cleaning methods or industrial vacuum cleaners equipped with HEPA filters for optimal results.

Develop and enforce standard operating procedures (SOPs) for tasks involving flour handling and processing. This may include guidelines for proper equipment use, cleaning, and personal hygiene practices.

c) Employee training and Awareness Programs:

Implement comprehensive employee training programs on flour dust hazards, control measures, and safe work practices. This includes building awareness of working safely around flour dust and the importance of good housekeeping practices, handling procedures, and PPE utilization. Conduct regular refresher courses to keep employees informed and engaged in maintaining a safe work environment.

6. Provision of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE):

Equip workers with the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks, gloves, and safety goggles to minimize exposure to flour dust. Ensure that workers receive proper training on the correct use and maintenance of their PPE. Regularly assess workplace conditions to determine if additional PPE or respiratory protection may be required.

7. Regular Monitoring and Evaluation:

Establish monitoring programs to measure the effectiveness of implemented control measures regularly. This involves assessing the workplace air quality, evaluating the performance of dust containment systems, and reviewing employee adherence to safety protocols. Use this data to refine your strategies continuously.

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