Getting the most out of your joint health and safety committee
Bakery workers might think being covered in flour is part of a day’s work. Flour dust may seem harmless but dust in high concentrations is a contaminant that must be controlled.
Mitigating and eliminating these risks is a must for employers, but it’s not something that you have to do alone. Many employers in food and beverage manufacturing are harnessing the power of their joint health and safety committee or worker representative to identify and control risks.
Harness your joint committee
Joint committees play an important role in the workplace and are a requirement for any employer with 20 workers or more. If your workplace has more than 9 but fewer than 20 workers, you need a worker health and safety representative instead of a committee, but the role they play in injury prevention is just as important.
A joint committee brings together representatives of the employer and the workers and supports the duty of the employer to ensure a healthy and safe workplace. They meet monthly and work together to help resolve health and safety issues in the workplace. Whether you have a committee or a worker representative, here some examples of the duties they have:
- Promptly dealing with health and safety concerns
- Consulting with workers and the employer on issues related to health and safety and the occupational environment
- Advising the employer on workplace health and safety programs and policies, and monitoring their effectiveness
- Advising the employer on proposed changes to the workplace, including significant proposed changes to equipment and machinery, or work processes that may affect the health or safety of workers
- Making recommendations to the employer on education programs to support the health and safety of workers and compliance under the Workers Compensation Act and Occupational Health and Safety Regulation
Protect workers from flour dust
A joint health a safety committee can also help manage the risk of workers being exposed to airborne flour dust. Tasks that create high concentrations of airborne flour include:
- Loading flour and other ingredients into mixers
- Dusting flour onto baking surfaces
- Dry sweeping flour dust from shelving or the floor
- Disposing of empty flour bags
Inhaling airborne flour dust can irritate the respiratory tract and lead to a type of occupational asthma known as “baker’s asthma.” Once people are sensitized to flour dust, they can experience asthma attacks from exposure to even small amounts of it. In some cases, it can take up to 30 years to develop symptoms after being exposed.
Flour dust in the air can also cause explosions. When tiny particles like flour are released into the air, they are highly flammable. A cloud of flour dust mixed with an ignition source could be disastrous.
Prevent flour dust from becoming airborne
Managing risk in your workplace involves thinking about what might cause harm to your workers and determining whether you are taking reasonable steps to prevent that harm from happening. It’s important to regularly review your work processes to ensure a change in production isn’t putting workers at risk.
The knowledge of the workers on the health and safety committee or your health and safety representative can help you review and adapt your risk controls. The work environment may require physical modifications to facilities, along with equipment and processes that can reduce exposure. Some questions to consider:
- Can a flour dust extraction system be installed?
- Can ventilation be improved?
- Can a HEPA vacuum be used for cleaning?
The next line of defense is to look at updating procedures and policies. Questions to consider with your committee or representative include:
- Do you have a written exposure control plan for flour dust?
- Are there warning signs posted in the work area?
- Are safe procedures posted to remind workers how to minimize the spread of dust?
- Can cleaning practices be improved and done more regularly?
Personal protective equipment such as respirators is the last resort and should only be used if there is at least one other control in place as well. Some questions to consider:
- Do workers have the proper respirators for use during cleanup and dusty short-term tasks?
- Have respirators been fitted and checked to make sure they are working properly?
After implementing a new process, be sure to have the committee check back in with workers for updates and possible improvements.
A joint health and safety committee plays an important role in helping to identify health and safety risks and developing a plan to manage them. It provides an opportunity for workers and employers to find solutions together and creates a safer workplace for all.
Find out more
Visit worksafebc.com for resources to help you manage a healthy and safe workplace. Additional sources of information include: