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March 27, 2012

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Proactive inspection discovers multiple safety failings at bakery

A baker has been the subject of the HSE’s first proactive prosecution for failing to protect workers from exposure to flour dust.

Luton and South Bedfordshire Magistrates’ Court heard that the HSE visited Honeytop Speciality Foods Ltd’s Dunstable factory in November 2009 to investigate an incident where a worker had fallen from a ladder.

During the investigation the inspector Emma Rowlands identified a number of other safety risks at the bakery, which manufactures a range of tortillas, crumpets and naan breads. She returned to the factory in February 2010 and with the help of experts from the Health and Safety Laboratory identified that workers were being exposed to six times the legal limit of flour dust.

The inspector discovered that the bakery had no control measures in place to extract the dust, which can cause occupational asthma, and workers were sweeping it away with brooms rather than using vacuums. Employees had been issued facemasks but had not been trained in how to wear them, and, as a result, many were wearing them upside down.

The company also failed to provide lifting equipment for workers who were manually lifting 25kg sacks of ingredients continually for 12-hour shifts. No risk assessment had been carried out for this method of work and no manual-handling aids were provided.

Between February and May 2010 the HSE issued 10 Improvement Notices to the company, which include; a need for control measures to prevent exposure to the dust; proper supervision of staff; guards to be installed on machines; controls for noise exposure; provision of lifting equipment; a mandate to seek professional health and safety advice; and barriers to be installed to separate vehicles and pedestrians. No action was taken in relation to the ladder fall.

Inspector Rowlands said: “Flour dust can cause occupational asthma, which is a debilitating illness for which there is no known cure. Each year there are about 3000 new cases of work-related respiratory diseases yet simple measures such as proper ventilation and extraction can control this.

“Ignorance is no defence and in this case the company’s management was in denial of its responsibilities.”

Honeytop Speciality Foods appeared in court on 26 March and pleaded guilty to breaching reg.5 and reg.7 of the MHSWR 1999 and reg.7 and reg.11 of the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002. It was fined £1000 for each breach and ordered to pay £6000 in costs.

In mitigation, the company said it has come under new ownership since the incident and has spent more than £100,000 on safety improvement. This included installing an extractor system and providing various lifting aids, such as trolleys and pallet trucks. It has also appointed a full-time health and safety manager, who has implemented health surveillance process to ensure that staff undergo medical tests for symptoms of occupational asthma.

After the hearing, inspector Rowlands said: “In a bread factory it is quite obvious that there will be a lot of flour dust in the atmosphere, and in this case workers were being exposed to up to six times the legal limit. Yet, Honeytop Speciality Foods did nothing to identify what protective measures should have been in place to prevent its workers from being exposed to it.”

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