The Food and Drink Federation (FDF) is continuing to reduce accident numbers in food manufacturing, but must focus on occupational ill health within the bakery sector.

Partnering with the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and trade union groups, the FDF has launched the third edition of its Common Strategy, a five-year programme focusing on reducing occupational ill health levels and improving workplace wellbeing. It comes as overall injury rates in food and drink manufacturing, which is categorised as over three-day absence and major injuries combined, has reduced from 2,805 injuries/100,000 workers in 1990 to 1,404 in 2010, a reduction of 50%.

However, cases of occupationally induced asthma remained above average, mainly due to exposure in small or medium-sized bakeries and other premises handling flour and associated ingredients. According to the HSE, flour dust and enzymes containing additives, such as amylase, are the second most common cause of occupational asthma, which can also cause dermatitis, and can affect workers in bakeries, flour mills and kitchens.

Emily Humphreys, head of policy and public affairs at Asthma UK, said: ‘We know that occupational asthma is the most frequently reported work-related respiratory disease in the UK, so we’re glad to see a long-term strategy being introduced to address this. Over 12.7 million working days are lost to asthma each year and we estimate the annual cost of asthma to society is £2.3bn.

“Asthma UK’s Workplace Charter sets out 10 recommendations to reduce the impact of asthma in the workplace, and provides information on asthma triggers and symptoms, instructions on what to do if someone is having an attack, and guidelines for employers on making the work environment an asthma-friendly zone.”

Richard Morgan, head of HSE’s food and drink manufacture section, said: "While larger bakeries have largely managed to control flour and ingredient dust there are still health problems associated with exposure to dust at many small and medium sized bakeries. Fortunately there is plenty of user-friendly guidance freely available for these bakeries and I would encourage businesses to look at this and take any action necessary to protect their workers."

Future aims highlighted in the report were to reduce reportable and major injury rates, decrease fatal injuries to zero each year, further reduce occupational ill health, particularly upper limb disorders and back injuries, which comprise almost 60% of the ill health, and continue to promote, develop and implement management issues.

Achievements of these aims, set out in the Common Strategy, will be monitored until at least 2020, with a review every five years.