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It’s a big job overseeing the health and safety of a food manufacturing site. Your premises likely contains many people that carry out risky activities.
It’s part of your job to ensure that they are safely working with and around moving vehicles, are adopting good manual handling techniques, and are efficiently carrying out hands-on tasks.
Each year over 5,000 injuries in food and drink manufacturing premises are reported, which represents around a quarter of all manufacturing industries. But HSE research indicates that positive steps by management could have prevented injury in about 70% of incidents, and action by workers a further 10%.
Are Employees Fully Informed & Trained?
Human and machine must work in tandem, and since we can’t tell machines how to work safely and efficiently with people, workers need to operate equipment safely and have a strong awareness of the risks they face to compensate.
Employees need to understand how machinery is best used, how to recognise signs of a fault, and how to properly access dangerous areas if need be – e.g. for unblocking and cleaning. They should be able to demonstrate that they have this knowledge and can carry out work activities safely with and without supervision.
This is crucial in manufacturing industries where machinery can and has been the cause of major injuries and fatalities. It accounts for a third of all work-related fatalities, and in non-fatal injuries in food and drink manufacturing 75% of cases were due to a lack of guarding, 25% of which involved cleaning activities.
Case study: A worker who was cleaning underneath a conveyor belt in a packing area had his arm drawn into the running nip between the belt and end roller, and lost his arm as a result of the incident. It was discovered that the guarding had been removed without the conveyor belt being electrically isolated.
Your examination of the equipment may determine that there are no immediate risks and that it is fully functional, but as this case study demonstrates, it’s important to consider unobvious risks. If the worker had received sufficient information about how to properly shut down the machine before cleaning, he might not have suffered his injury.
Are Individuals Adhering to Safety Measures?
Exchanging a few jokes while colleagues prepare bakery goods or load poultry onto shackle lines will for the most part be pretty harmless, but individuals who fail to take safety rules seriously or follow their training properly will not only put themselves at risk, but everyone else too.
Just like a bottle on a conveyor belt bringing everything to a halt if it’s knocked out of line, a person’s unsafe behaviour – intentional or not – can lead to the whole process in your manufacturing site being disrupted. You need to spot the problems before they build up, and arrange for the individual to be retrained or reminded of the importance of safety measures.
In some instances, it could be that the workers don’t fully understand the necessary measures due to barriers, such as English not being their first language (as is the case for many workers in this industry). They might have difficulty following instructions or training, which they may be reluctant to admit.
Be sure to deliver safety information in a way they can understand, either through translation or visual aids that are clear and simple, and ensure that they adopt a good attitude towards your workplace’s safety culture.
Issuing Suitable PPE
Despite all the other control measures that you may have in place, most food and drink manufacturing sites will require employees to wear PPE to safeguard them from risks, such as hazardous substances and noise.
But you can’t simply go online and purchase the first set of hard hats or goggles you find. Each selection needs to be suitable for its intended user, fit them properly, and be appropriate for the task (it’s a good idea to let users help choose their PPE).
Protective gloves: workers will be at risk of contamination, chemicals, and wet work, which could lead to occupational dermatitis, while certain activities could put workers at risk of cuts and punctures, such as those involving knives or slicing machinery in the meat-processing industry. Cut-resistant processing gloves would be a suitable option, for example.
Hearing defence: the incessant rattles of machines, the hubbub of people working, and the beeps and hums of vehicles throughout the site can pose a real risk to people’s hearing. Suitable, comfortable ear protection should be provided to workers so that their noise exposure is reduced to below 80dB.
Be aware, however, that cutting out too much sound could cause the wearer to feel isolated and actually be at further risk. They may struggle to communicate with colleagues, fail to hear warnings, and have a reduced awareness of their surroundings (e.g. oncoming vehicles).
Purchase protective hearing equipment that reduces sound to an acceptable level, not just the lowest possible.
Are Safe Methods of Work Adopted?
Shifting a couch between rooms is enough to leave a person feeling exhausted and strained, so imagine working day after day lifting heavy crates and sacks – as workers in your manufacturing site will be doing. Injuries caused by manual handling activities accounts for a third of all those reported to HSE in this industry.
Do people know how to orient their body? Do they know their limits? Do they know what risks the environment might pose? These are all imperative questions that should factor into your analysis of someone lifting, pushing, carrying, and lowering loads.
Equally important is not letting the little 2 minute jobs be exempt from proper manual handling procedures. The time spent on them collectively could account for more than one or two of the bigger tasks where workers properly squat to lift a crate, and this could lead to long-term strain: namely, musculoskeletal disorders.
- Health and Safety for Food Handlers & What Should You Look Out For?
- How Often Should I Renew My Food Hygiene and Safety Certificate?
- Risk Assessment Training
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Liz has a degree in English and Creative Writing and is skilled at writing about technical subjects in a style that anyone can understand – she enjoys supporting people’s learning.
Outside of work, Liz spends her time on hobbies such as writing, reading, gaming, and fine art.