Who Could Be At Risk Of Baker's Lung?


The Law Of… Baking Safely

There are some occupations that put workers at a greater risk of occupational asthma. Flour dust can cause asthma as well as dermatitis and affects anyone working with the common ingredient.

Industrial Disease solicitor, Phillip Gower, investigates what causes baker's lung and who is most at risk.

What Is Baker's Lung?

Flour dust and enzymes that contain additives such as amylase are the second most common cause of industrial asthma. It can also be caused by other allergens present in bakeries such as eggs, sesame seeds, yeast and nuts. These are common allergens and daily exposure to them at work means a higher risk of asthma.

With proper precautions put in place, the risk of baker's lung can be reduced or even eradicated.

Who Is Most At Risk Of Baker's Lung?

There are a variety of potential work places that could put employees at risk of baker's lung.

 You are at risk of baker's lung if you work as:

  • A head chef
  • A cook
  • Food processor
  • Food preparation worker

One of the more common places of work that pose a risk to cooks is schools. The Health and Safety Executive report on the case of a 46-year-old school cook who developed breathing problems after working with flour in the school kitchen. The room she worked in was small and had little air ventilation. She had to retire early as she had become severely asthmatic.

What Are The Symptoms Of Baker's Lung?

Baker's Lung is more commonly known as occupational asthma and its name derives from what profession has caused the asthma. The symptoms of baker's lung are therefore the same as occupational asthma.

They include:

  • Wheezing
  • Breathlessness
  • A tight chest
  • Coughing

More serious symptoms that could indicate an asthma attack include:

  • Wheezing or coughing becoming severe
  • Becoming too breathless to eat, speak or sleep
  • Breathing faster
  • A rapid heartbeat
  • Drowsiness, confusion or exhaustion
  • Blue lips
  • Fainting

As with most occupational asthma, baker's lung symptoms will often appear to be much worse during the working week and then ease off on the weekends and on holidays. This is a good indication that the asthma is related to a place of work.

How Can I Protect Myself From Baker's Lung?

There are precautions that can be taken by both employees and employers to reduce or even eliminate the risk of baker's lung.

For employees, the Health And Safety Executive recommend:

  • Working carefully and avoiding clouds of dust
  • Avoid sweeping up flour or using compressed air. Use wet methods or an industrial vacuum cleaner instead
  • Wear protective equipment provided, such as a mask

Employers are responsible for:

  • Providing dust extraction and protective equipment for employees who carry out dusty tasks
  • Ensuring health surveillance
  • Regular environmental health and safety checks
  • Removing avoidable substances from the environment
  • Providing a well-ventilated working area

How Can You Claim For Baker's Lung?

It is really important that if you are suffering from the symptoms of baker's lung, or if you already suffer from asthma, you inform your employer and co-workers. Make sure they are aware of where your inhaler is in case you suffer an asthma attack. It is also advisable for your employer to have a copy of your written asthma action plan.

If your employer hasn't taken the necessary precautions to protect you and your colleagues from baker's lung, you may be entitled to damages if you are showing symptoms of the condition. As employers, they are responsible for putting reasonable precautions in place to protect you from conditions such as baker's lung.

Phillip comments:

"Occupational conditions such as baker's lung are often seen as historic conditions that are unlikely to affect people nowadays. But this is a misconception."

"Baker's lung affects 3,000 people a year in the UK and that number tells us that not enough is being done by employers to protect employees."

"Employers should be making adjustments to environments to accommodate those with asthma by decreasing asthma triggers."

"It is usually possible to manage asthma symptoms so that you can remain in your chosen workplace. But if asthma continues to be an issue, you may need support to convince your employer to make appropriate changes."

If you are suffering from occupational asthma and feel your employer has not done enough to protect you, call our Industrial Disease team today for a free initial consultation.

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