Occupational asthma and rhinitis

The problem

Work related asthma affects workers inhaling dusts which are respiratory sensitisers. Asthma is an extremely distressing and potentially life-threatening disease.

Occupational asthma comprises 33% of food industry compensation cases under the Department of Work and Pensions Industrial Injuries Scheme.

Among all occupations, bakers have the second highest incidence rate of occupational asthma as reported by chest physicians, who also report that flour/grain dust is the second highest causal agent for causing occupational asthma.

Respiratory sensitisers include dust from:

  • grain
  • flour
  • bakery dust
  • egg protein
  • fish protein
  • wood dust

So workers involved in baking, milling, malting, fish processing and coopering are at particular risk.


Dusts such as grain, flour, spices and seasonings can also cause rhinitis (runny or stuffy nose), conjunctivitis (watery or prickly eyes) and other irritant effects.

Managing prevention

Complying with the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations provides a framework for management of health hazards:

  • assess the health risk
  • prevent exposure, if reasonably practicable
  • adequate control, if not
  • dust monitoring, health surveillance, examination of plant, training

Find out how low-dust flours can reduce asthma risks for bakers.

Further guidance

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Updated 2023-06-15