June 6th, 2014 7:26 am ET - Julie Tisdale Pardi, MA
Whether you are celebrating National Doughnut Day today with the traditional glazed or a trendy bacon-infused delicacy, take a moment to think about those who bring you these sugary breakfast treats. We are not passing judgment nor endorsing your breakfast selection (that question is better addressed by you and your nutritionist) but instead encouraging all of us to consider the potential health risks faced by those workers who make the 10 billion doughnuts produced every year in the U.S.[i]. Lest you think we are killing your doughnut-induced sugar buzz, you should know that the first National Doughnut Day was created for workers. The Salvation Army created the day in 1938 to “honor the women who served doughnuts to soldiers during World War I.”[ii]
Today, those serving doughnuts may face hazards related to musculoskeletal injuries, shift work, or violence at work. This blog will focus on the work-related hazards faced by those making the doughnuts. Health risks for bakers are well documented throughout history. In 1700, Bernardo Ramazzini described respiratory symptoms among bakers caused by exposure to flour dust. We even see “anecdotal references from antiquity describing how Roman slaves working in bakeries protected themselves with cloth as a primitive respirator to cover their faces because their breathing suffered from inhaling flour”[iii].
Baker’s asthma remains one of the most frequent occupational respiratory disorders.[iv] NIOSH conducted a Health Hazard Evaluation Exposure to Flour Dust and Sensitization Among Bakery Employees to examine these and other issues. A SENSOR report describes cases of baker’s asthma diagnosed in Massachusetts. NIOSH has also examined the potential risk to workers from food flavorings, specifically diacteyl, at a baking plant. More information including recommendations for controlling and reducing both diacetyl and dust exposures (on page 12) can be found in the report Process Evaluation at Baker Boy .
Injuries to bakers are also prevalent. In 2012, the rate of nonfatal injuries and illnesses involving days away from work for bakers was 171/10,000 full time workers compared to 102/10,000 full time workers among all occupations. Injuries faced by bakers can include cuts and lacerations; slips, trips and falls; burns; and musculoskeletal disorders. There were 2,030 injuries and illnesses among bakers involving days away from work in 2012.
As we approach summer vacation many students will be working summer jobs and many young workers find employment in the food service industry. While youth under 18 years of age are prohibited from working with powered bakery equipment and youth less than 16 years of age are prohibited from using deep fat fryers that do not automatically raise and lower, they may face other risks when working in the baking industry. To address one hazard NIOSH produced the document Preventing Work-related Burn Injury to Youth Working in Fast Food Restaurants which provides information on the risk of burns as well as prevention information.
While bakers can face injuries and illnesses at work, their workplaces can be safe if proper guidelines are implemented and followed. What better day than National Doughnut Day to focus on safety and health in the baking industry?
Julie Tisdale Pardi, MA
Ms. Tisdale Pardi is the NIOSH Science Blog Coordinator.
[i] Huffington Post. “On National Donut Day, A Tribute To The Totally Delicious And Addicting Treat.” 6/7/2013. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/07/national-donut-day-history_n_3398148.html
[ii] The Wall Street Journal. “The Donut Sandwich Goes Mainstream “ 6/3/2013.http://blogs.wsj.com/corporate-intelligence/2013/06/03/the-donut-sandwich-goes-mainstream/
[iii] Brisman, J. Occup Environ Med2002;59:498-502 doi:10.1136/oem.59.7.498. http://oem.bmj.com/content/59/7/498.full