Study Information

Who is doing the study?

This study is being carried out by a group of investigators at the University of Alberta. This study is funded through the JSTL Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Futures program of the Government of Alberta.

Why are we doing the study?

Adverse health effects from exposure to grain and flour have been recognised for many years. Alberta Jobs, Skills, Training and Labour (JSTL), part of the Government of Alberta, recently commissioned work to look at flour exposure within a number of Alberta bakeries. The authors found that current exposure to flour dust sometimes exceeded allowable levels.

The prevalence of respiratory and other symptoms related to flour exposure in baking is quite variable. One study of Quebec pastry maker apprentices found the likelihood of developing an allergy to some component of flour was approximately 4% per year a person worked.

It is not known how common sensitization to flour and respiratory symptoms are among Alberta bakers. It also uncertain which agents in the workplace may cause health problems and the level of exposure needed to trigger them.

Our goals are to see how many people working with flour are sensitized to flour dust, and to see how often workers in these jobs complain of respiratory symptoms. We also want to find out the levels of exposures that cause this.

Who is eligible?

We approached a selected group of Alberta bakers. Participation in the study is voluntary.

What would I have to do if I took part?

The first part of a bakers involvement in this research study was baseline testing. This testing was carried out within a mobile laboratory brought to a location close to SAIT or NAIT. When a participant arrived at the laboratory they completed a questionnaire about their health and their work with an interviewer. Then, they underwent skin prick testing to show if they are sensitized to some common environmental and bakery associated agents. A few drops of purified extracts of the agents are put onto the skin of the forearm. A tiny needle (1mm lancet) is then used to prick through the drop into the surface of the skin. Several agents can be tested at the same time. If someone is sensitized a red mark of 3mm or more will occur after 10-15 minutes, and then quickly disappear. The final element of testing is to perform some simple tests of lung function. Participants are asked to take a big breath in and then blow out as hard as possible into some equipment. This calculates the amount of air blown out. A copy of results are given and explained.

After the completion of the baseline testing participants are contacted every 6 months for up to three years and asked to complete a brief questionnaire to update their health and work information. This can be done over the telephone or on-line.

The final involvement with the study will be to repeat the same testing that was done at the baseline so that we can see if anything has changed in the interim. Again, a copy of the results will be made available along with an explanation of what they mean.

Could any benefit come from this study?

The results of own testing will be immediately available. A copy will be given that can be shared with a family doctor. If the study identifies preventable risk-factors for sensitization in bakery workers in Alberta this will be discussed with the government and industry representatives. Eventually this may result in changes to allowable exposure levels to protect new workers starting work with flour.

Could any harm come to me from taking part in this study?

Completion of the questionnaire and performing the breathing tests carry very little risk. Occasionally, the deep breathing required for the breathing tests can make somebody feel light headed. If this happens you should ask the person performing the testing if you can rest for a few minutes. Skin prick tests are also considered very safe and carry only a very low risk. They are routinely carried out in many doctors’ offices and clinical laboratories. A positive reaction to one of the agents is similar to localized hives, or an insect sting. Reactions almost always disappear within about half an hour after the test. In rare cases they can persist for slightly longer. Any positive responses may be itchy and are best treated by applying an antihistamine cream. We will have this available at the time we test you. There is a very rare possibility of a more widespread allergic reaction. This may need to be treated if it occurred. There is also a small possibility that some test results may become known to someone else. If more than one person is being tested at the same time it is possible they could see skin prick test results by looking at the reactions on your forearm. Given that the results are difficult to read even when close to you, and last only a few minutes, we think this possibility is remote. There is also a legal requirement that if a work-related illness is identified during this study it should be reported to Alberta Worker’s Compensation Board. If this situation were to occur it would be discussed with you.

What about confidentiality?

All information we collect will be kept confidential and used only for the purpose of this study. It will be available only to the study investigators. It will not be available to your managers or anybody else at your work. Your details will not be disclosed in any report published as a result of this study. By signing the consent form you give permission to the study staff to access and use the personal health information you have provided during the study.

As a condition of funding, data with no possibility of identifying you or your employer will be made available to the Government of Alberta.

In addition to the study team, the University of Alberta’s Health Research Ethics Board may have access to your study records. This is needed so that they can monitor the research and verify the accuracy of study data. The study data will be stored for a minimum of 5 years at the offices of the Occupational Health Program by the principal investigator.

Where can I find out more?

If you have any questions or concerns about the study, please phone us on the toll-free number 1-855-492-8642. If it is out of office hours, please leave a voice message and we will get back to you very quickly. You can also email BakerAB@ualberta.ca or write to:

Alberta Bakers Study
5-30 University Terrace, 8303 112 Street NW
Edmonton, AB T6G 2T4

Whom do I contact if I have concerns about the way the study is being conducted?

For questions regarding participant rights and ethical conduct of research, contact the Research Ethics Office at 780-492-2615.