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Why dust control is vital in the food industry

19 October 2016

Dust control is no longer a problem that can just be swept under the rug. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is now proactively assessing food manufacturers for dust control and issuing penalties for breaching standards. However, it’s not just the threat of being penalised that means it’s vital for the industry to take dust control more seriously. Dustcheck explains how improper dust control can have other more serious consequences

Improper treatment of dust in the food industry is vital for a business and the health of employees. In September 2016, a bakery company in Stevenage was fined over £36,000 for failing to comply with HSE standards – this is not a trivial issue, especially for smaller organisations. 

Prevent fire and explosions 

Neglecting dust can have explosive consequences – quite literally. Substances regularly used in industrial cooking and baking including flour, sugars and various powders all have the potential to explode. When substances are finely ground inside baking and cooking appliances they can create a dust cloud. This dust, when suspended and mixed with air, can cause large and even fatal explosions.   

Bag tip units and bulk silo venting equipment is sometimes overlooked but vital in the food manufacturing industry. These systems help reduce the amount of dust that is left over after use that could cause potential explosions in the future. 

You can take steps to reduce explosive hazards. Look at where you position equipment and ensure there are no leakage points around handling systems that produce dust. You can also use vacuum clean-up systems to ensure vessels and equipment are left scrupulously clean.

 Looking after employee health 

Dust that is produced as a result of food production, can also have serious effects on the health of your employees. Exposure to dust can cause serious skin conditions and even occupational asthma, when flour dust is breathed in. In fact, respiratory conditions among bakers are now the highest of any occupation in the country. 

The HSE sets a long term Workplace Exposure Limit of 10mg/m3 (averaged over 8 hours) and a short term exposure limit of 30mg/m3 (averaged over 15 minutes). Breaching of these standards can result in severe penalties, loss of productivity due to employee sickness and even legal action. An employee from a baking company in Southampton was recently awarded a five figure sum after developing occupational asthma due to over exposure to flour dust. For small or large food manufacturers, looking after employee health by reducing dust exposure is vitally important. 

What steps can I take to reduce dust?

There are a wide variety of dust control solutions to help reduce dust accumulation that can cause explosions and adverse health effects for your employees. You can also find industry standard guidance and advice on the HSE website with sections that deal specifically with dust control. 

One thing is for sure, appropriate dust control cannot be overlooked. If your business takes the correct measures, you can avoid potentially life threating hazards, employee illness and heavy fines – all of which can have a huge effect on the reputation and future of your business.