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Gloucestershire Business News

HSE issues advice to food industry

The HSE has written an open letter to the food industry, to address coronavirus concerns, particularly around PPE.

While it says the letter mainly addresses concerns raised by bakeries, the points raised are of relevance to the whole of the industry.

The HSE reassured the industry that it is constantly reviewing how it can support the national effort to tackle COVID-19 and continue to protect Britain's workforce, in a fast moving and unprecedented situation.

In the letter, it said: "In support of the government and to help businesses and workers, we are clarifying and promoting guidance for those continuing to work away from the home.

"In bakeries, breathing in flour dust can be a significant risk as it can cause occupational asthma. We are aware that currently there is a restricted supply of dust masks (PPE) across many parts of the food industry and that many employers still rely on them to control exposure to hazardous substances. However, suitable control can often be achieved using good working practices and local exhaust ventilation (engineering controls) which then means that employees do not need to wear dust masks; reducing overall pressure on the supply chain.

"During the COVID-19 outbreak we do not anticipate an increase in cases of occupational asthma. Employers that effectively control exposure to flour dust using good working practices, engineering controls and PPE will not see an increase in cases. However, whenever cases are reported, in line with our publicly available Incident Selection Criteria, we will investigate them to understand the circumstances."

Guidance to the food industry on what to report to HSE under the Reporting of Injuries, Disease and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations (RIDDOR) is available on the HSE website. It includes the restricted circumstances under which cases of coronavirus amongst employees are reportable.

The letter continued: "Following an investigation HSE cannot give a guarantee that, regardless of the circumstances, we would not prosecute, or take one of the other enforcement actions open to us. We will, however, continue to take decisions on enforcement action in accordance with our publicly available Enforcement Policy Statement, which requires that prosecution, must be both proportionate to the seriousness of the breach and in the public interest - it is a course of action used for the most serious breaches of legislation. Employers that can demonstrate effective control of risks with the appropriate combination of good working practices, engineering control and PPE are not likely to face enforcement action.

"HSE is doing everything we can to support the nation at this time of crisis. We are working across government and with industry on the response to COVID-19 by agreeing sensible and pragmatic approaches to workplace safety that ensure essential services continue."

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