Technology developed for the military to detect chemical attacks is being pitched at the bakery industry to avoid diseases like white lung, caused by breathing in flour dust.
Suffolk firm Arosa Instruments has developed wearable monitors for use by bakery workers, which use air sampling tech developed by the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory and the University of Hertfordshire.
White lung, known as baker’s asthma, is a serious health and safety risk facing the sector. Latest data from the Health and Safety Executive estimates 17,000 new cases of self-reported “breathing or lung problems” caused or made worse by work each year.
Bakers and flour confectioners were found to have the highest rates of new cases seen by chest physicians, second only to vehicle paint technicians. Flour and grain dust was among the most commonly cited causes of occupational asthma.
The Arosa monitors weigh 95 grams and are small enough to be worn on a lapel. While other monitoring devices exist, the Arosa offering is significantly lighter, meaning it can be worn closer to a worker’s ‘breathing zone’ and doesn’t have any hoses which often snag.
The sampling method used in the monitors was originally designed to alert armed forces to possible chemical weapons attacks. Arosa has brought the technology to market with the backing of Ploughshare Innovations.
“Flour dust and enzymes are the second most common cause of occupational asthma and they can also lead to other conditions such as dermatitis. Our patented technology represents a major leap forward in protecting bakery industry workers and ensuring employers achieve compliance and reduce avoidable risk of workplace exposure,” said Arosa Instruments founder William Averdieck.
The monitors allow inhalable dust to be monitored over an eight-hour shift and give immediate alerts if a worker is over-exposed. They also provide downloadable records of a worker’s dust exposure through the day, allowing employers to identify potential dust exposure hotspots.
“This technology is a game-changer for the industry, replacing old and cumbersome monitoring equipment with advanced, lightweight, wearable devices that provide detailed real-time information,” Averdieck added.
The rate of occupational asthma among bakery sector workers was 35.5 per 100,000 according to HSE analysis of the last decade’s worth of data. That’s significantly higher than the 2.8 per 100,000 for the manufacturing industry as a whole and 0.53 cases per 100,000 across all occupations.
The Federation of Bakers has since the 1980s published a ‘Blue Book’ guide to dust control and health surveillance in bakeries. Last summer it updated the guidance on what it called “one of the most significant occupational health risks in the industry”.
“The most important message…is that dust in bakeries can harm health,” the guidance states.