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A journalist with 13 years of experience on trade publications covering construction, local government, property, pubs, and transport.
August 22, 2017

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Best of SHP 2017: Great British Bake Off: How safe is baking?

Following health and safety inspector Kate Lyon, one of the contestants on this year’s Great British Bake Off, reaching the final of the show, SHP thought it would be worth assessing just how safe baking is…

It is likely new GBBO contestant Lyon is going to be more worried about her cakes rising than about health and safety. But there is a good chance she will have one eye on it during the show, especially considering her background.

Below SHP outlines the various risk, legal cases and occupational health issues surrounding baking.

Main occupational ill health risks

There are four main occupational ill health risks as a result of baking.

SHP is sure Lyon will be aware of all of these issues as she enters the tent. Maybe she will be giving Paul Hollywood a bit of friendly OSH advice.

  • Musculoskeletal injury from manual handling, eg of sacks, bags and product
  • Work-related upper limb disorders (WRULDs) from repetitive work, eg tin loading, lidding, cake decorating, packing operations
  • Noise induced hearing loss from noisy areas, eg depanning, bread slicing, dough mixing
  • Occupational asthma and respiratory irritation from exposure to flour dust.

Flour dust

It will be getting pretty chaotic in the Bake Off tent. There is a good chance there will be flour flying around, that’s for sure.

Two of the main issues the Health and Safety Executive wants to highlight are around occupational asthma from flour dust and also dermatitis.

Flour dust can cause:

  • irritation to the eyes – conjunctivitis
  • irritation to the nose – rhinitis
  • occupational dermatitis
  • asthma if a worker becomes sensitised

Flour dust is a hazardous substance as defined under the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations 2002 (as amended).

The level of new cases of bakers getting occupational asthma is the highest in any occupation – and this is against a background of falling rates across all industries.

Workplace limits

Flour dust has been set a Workplace Exposure Limit (WEL) comprising a long-term exposure limit of 10mg/m3 (averaged over 8 hours) and a short-term exposure limit of 30mg/m3 (averaged over 15 minutes).

Some bakery additives/bread improvers contain enzymes, such as fungal alpha amylase, which are potent sensitisers. Exposure to them should be minimised through using improvers in liquid, paste or dust suppressed powder form.

Minimising exposure be done through using health surveillance and checking employees health for any adverse effects related to work. It may also involve checking skin for dermatitis or asking questions about breathing and may need to done by a doctor or nurse.

The HSE recommends:

  • Work carefully – avoid raising clouds of dust.
  • Either use dust extraction or respiratory protective equipment for dusty tasks.
  • Never sweep up or use compressed air. Clean up using wet methods or an industrial vacuum cleaner.
  • You need regular health surveillance.

It also states that clouds of flour arise from throwing, disposing of empty bags, and from brushing and dusting, as well as sieving and dough making.

The advice from the HSE? “Work gently! Start-up mixers on slow-speed until wet and dry ingredients are combined. Use dredgers or sprinklers for dusting.”

Here are some links to a couple of real-life incidents:

Baking industry legal cases

In July, SHP reported on how bread giant Warburtons has received a £1.9m fine after pleading guilty to a breach of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998, after an agency worker was injured when his arm became trapped in a machine for 20 minutes.

The company, which registers an annual pre-tax profit of £34m, was also fined £2m earlier this year following an incident in which a worker sustained life changing injuries following a fall.

Prior to the changes to the sentencing guidelines the company was fined £5,000 in 2014 after a worker seriously injured his hand.

Food safety and baking tips

Here are some total ‘no-gos’, which perhaps Kate Lyons may be pointing out to fellow contestants in the tent:

Eating raw dough for cookies and similar bakesIt’s fairly simple. If it’s got eggs in it, and it’s not been cooked, then it’s not edible.

Washing your hands: Again eggs are a main culprit here. But if you are doing bakes involving raw meats then it is equally important. Indeed, as best practice it is good to wash your hands for at least 30 seconds with warm water and soap.

Keep surfaces clean: Anti-bacterial and sanitising sprays is the way to go.

Perishable items: Don’t leave them out in the warm kitchen. if you have milk, cheeses, meats, fruits and similar items which should be in the fridge, put them back in the cooler, where they belong.

Washing utensils and baking products: Again, avoiding contamination by cleaning.

Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) and bakers – the key messages from the HSE


Below is a comprehensive round-up of all the key COSHH issues around baking.

They are:

  • flour dust;
  • improver dusts containing enzymes;
  • dusts from protein-containing ingredients such as egg, soya;
  • spices, citrus oils and flavour concentrates;
  • cleaning and disinfectant products.

Dermatitis is an issue – especially if hands are wet many times a day or remain wet for long periods of time.

Control measures include:

  • careful working to avoid raising clouds of dust;
  • dust extraction;
  • vacuum or wet cleaning;
  • respirator for very dusty tasks;
  • skin checks.

Main causes of injury

There are a number of causes of injury in the baking workplace. Here are the areas of most risk:

  • Manual handling and lifting, especially lifting heavy and awkward loads and pushing wheeled racks
  • Slips and trips on either wet or contaminated floors
  • Falls from height from ladders, stairs, work platforms, plant and vehicles
  • Being struck by an object such as a knife or striking against an object.
  • Machinery such as conveyors, wrapping machinery, pie and tart machines, dough brakes, moulders, mixers, roll plant, pinning rolls/belts
  • Transport, including fork lift trucks and vehicles at loading bays
  • Exposure to harmful substances and hot objects, such as vapour from cleaning chemicals, or contact with hot equipment
  • Entry into silos: risk from engulfment, lack of respirable atmosphere, and mechanical hazards.

Who knows how far Lyon will go in the Bake Off tent.

But practitioners can be sure that her work station may well be the safest ever on the show…

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Chris Eley
Chris Eley
6 years ago

Good idea also to roll tops of flour bags closed to minimise flour dust release into the air..

Tony keetley
Tony keetley
6 years ago
Reply to  Chris Eley

Your having a laugh this is a kitchen – cannot be compared to the risks in a bakery.

Ben Coak
Ben Coak
6 years ago

It is also surprising how many people do not realise that high concentrations of flour dust is an explosion risk or if they are aware, they under estimate the risk. I recall doing an inspection in around 2006/7 in a bakery with flour dust everywhere and being told ‘it’s okay, we only use gluten free flour’.

Tony keetley
Tony keetley
6 years ago
Reply to  Ben Coak

Your having a laugh this is a kitchen – cannot be compared to the risks in a bakery.

Nigel Dupree
Nigel Dupree
6 years ago

And that is just at home in the kitchen where unintentional “burns”, don’t mean the roast or cake and, ‘fire risk’ associated with particulates in the air combusting are lower than in industry. But, ‘what about the other workers’, who constantly exceed their Work Exposure Limits (WEL) “everyday” trying to cope and tolerate the debilitating symptoms of “FATIGUE” manifesting in Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS), WULD’s and MSD’s over the last 30 years ???? What about their ongoing presenteeism, 30 years worth of it, and average 20% loss in performance and productivity (one day in five) simply, just because their eyes… Read more »

6 years ago
Reply to  Nigel Dupree

Its called ‘working for a living’

Alan Connor
Alan Connor
6 years ago

Sod’s Law dictates that she will burn herself on the oven door in tonight’s episode!

6 years ago

This is the reason H & S is scoffed at, so-called professionals going ‘over the top’ on what are very basic common-sense issues. Please keeps things in respective. This one will probably end up on the HSE’s ‘Myths list’

6 years ago

‘Absolute crackers’

Safety4 Ltd
Safety4 Ltd
6 years ago

It seems my comments on this ridiculous topic are being barred from view.