Protecting barista health in the workplace

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Christopher Simpson, a professor of environmental and occupational health sciences at the University of Washington School of Public Health, was recently awarded $121,134 from the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries' Safety and Health Investment Project Grants Program. The award will fund and support a project to examine respiratory hazards for workers who make a living roasting, grinding, packaging and serving coffee.

Simpson and his research team will focus on a chemical called diacetyl, which is naturally produced in the coffee roasting process and may be found in some flavorings. While ingestion of diacetyl poses no risk for consumers, high levels of airborne diacetyl may be linked to a rare and serious lung disease known as bronchiolitis obliterans.

“A number of recent studies have shown that workers in large commercial coffee production facilities are exposed to potentially hazardous levels of diacetyl, which can cause serious and irreversible lung damage,” Simpson said. “However, the levels of diacetyl present in smaller craft coffee processing facilities or coffee shops where coffee roasting, grinding and brewing take place are largely unknown.”

To better understand this complicated issue, researchers will gather information on the levels of diacetyl emitted during the various steps of coffee production, as well as the diacetyl exposures experienced by workers in these facilities. The team also plans to design and test a device to capture such emissions, so that coffee production workers and baristas are not exposed to hazardous levels of the chemical.