The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) - responsible for inspecting company premises and investigating incidents - denied claims that its funding has been reduced, however unions argue that it had been functioning over budget and has now been forced to cut the deficit.
"The Conservatives devastated the HSE, and this government has done little to readjust the balance. They now have less inspectors than ever and are unlikely to catch anyone who is not abiding by the regulations. They're just shifting deck chairs on the Titanic," Ronnie Draper, health and safety director at the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union (BFAWU), told BakeryAndSnacks.com.
Bakeries stand to sustain substantial losses if they do not comply with health and safety regulations, which cover machinery maintenance, handling methods and flour dust exposure levels.
Accidents in the food industry can represent up to 37 per cent of profit, 5 per cent of operating costs and 36 times the insured costs, according to the HSE. Other losses could include legal penalties and loss of plant.
Richard Hardy, negotiations officer at Prospect trade union, agreed that the HSE is not funded to an acceptable level and added that the union is currently campaigning for a doubling of the HSE's resources.
"A company can currently expect to be inspected on average once every 15 years, which is unacceptable. With a doubling of the HSE's funding, that figure can come down to once every five years," he said.
"A potentially lethal company could open up and it could be ten years before they are actually inspected," added Draper.
"A greater HSE presence in bakeries is necessary. What I'd like to see is the HSE advising industries and talking to companies. The information books and leaflets they are publishing are all very good, but they're not enough."
If the unions' campaigning for increased HSE funding bears fruit, bakeries can expect more frequent organised and random inspections, as well as more improvement or warning notices if they fall short of the set health and safety levels.
Injury numbers in bakeries have in fact dropped in the past years but are far from the goals set by the HSE. Between 1996/7 and 2003/4 the injury incidence rate for the bread and cake sector fell from 2317 to 1401, while for the preserved pastry/cake sector it fell from 1758 to 1526. However, the HSE still claims that 80 per cent of these accidents could be prevented through steps by management and action by workers.
HSE research has shown that bakeries are amongst the industries with the highest injury rates. Other high injury industries include dairy/cheese manufacture and meat/poultry slaughtering.
During the course of a 40-year career, every employee in the food industry has a one-in-six chance of sustaining a 'major injury', such as hospitalisation, serious fracture or amputation.