Risk reduction should not be a tick box exercise

By Alyson Magee

- Last updated on GMT

Moy Park has embraced a proactive approach to health and safety
Moy Park has embraced a proactive approach to health and safety

Related tags Moy park Safety Occupational safety and health

Ensuring a safe environment for your workers requires careful thought by everyone and shouldn’t be a ‘tick box’ exercise, as Alyson Magee discovers

Key points

A more serious attitude to health and safety in food and drink (F&D) manufacturing has resulted in a 60% reduction in injuries since 1990, according to Health and Safety Executive (HSE) figures. Nonetheless, increasing globalisation and specialist production in the UK industry is creating new challenges requiring ongoing vigilance alongside technological development.

“As a truly international industry, F&D manufacturers face an ever-growing and complex set of issues, particularly as the industry embraces new and emerging technologies,”​ says John Boyle, chair of the Food and Drink Group at the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH).

“Nowadays we see an array of different cultures involved in the food production process, with food and personnel moving across international boundaries, depending on the season, price, customer and market demands. Companies need to constantly innovate, develop and embrace new methods of working.”

For Louisa Mead, safety, environment and security advisor at Mars Chocolate UK and chair of the Occupational Health and Safety Committee at the Food and Drink Federation (FDF): “A lot of people assume health and safety is about box ticking, but the actual intention needs to be communicated clearly and fully understood by a wide range of audiences, from apprentices entering the workplace for the first time to more experienced staff. Health and safety needs to be inclusive and the ability to identify hazards and manage risk needs to be met with appropriate control measures.”

Both IOSH and FDF are involved in the Food and Drink Manufacture Health and Safety Forum, a tripartite committee composed of the main food and drink trade associations, trades unions and HSE. The Forum contributed to HSE’s publication of a revised ‘Recipe for Safety’​ guide, covering the main health and safety hazards in F&D, earlier this year.

Injury rate (Return to top)

While progress has been made in reducing incidents, the injury rate in F&D manufacture remains higher than Britain's all-manufacture average, according to HSE, and ongoing serious incidents are well documented at www.food.manufacture.co.uk.

The key causes of injury and occupational ill health, accounting for 96% of all incidents in F&D manufacture, are machinery, workplace transport, work at height, entry into silos and confined spaces, slips and trips, struck by objects and knives, manual handling, upper limb disorders, occupational dermatitis, occupational asthma, noise-induced hearing loss and work-related stress.

The HSE asserts that positive steps by management could have prevented injury in about 70% of incidents, while a proactive occupational health team will deal with discomfort in the workplace before it becomes pain, sickness and absence and has an impact on business margins.

Moy Park (Return to top)

Chicken processor Moy Park (see picture above from its Anwick factory in Lincolnshire) has embraced a proactive approach to health and safety, and is reaping the rewards. The business operates a ‘Meerkat Safety Scheme’ focused on observation, communication and teamwork – a see it, sort it and report it ethos – and has celebrated milestones such as achieving one million worked-hours without a lost time incident across four of its production sites.

“For Moy Park, the importance of health and safety is embedded in the culture of the entire organisation,”​ says Declan Cunningham, head of sustainability and risk. “This is a priority for management and is driven from the executive board right through the business. We focus on engaging and empowering everyone to take responsibility for health and safety and we celebrate our successes.”

Moy Park was recently presented with an International Safety Award with merit from the British Safety Council, for a second year.

IOSH uses its awards to highlight innovation that can cut hazards and control risks, “including ideas that have come from both up high or have stemmed from those on the shop floor”,​ says Boyle. Its National Food and Drink Industry Health and Safety Awards will be launched at The Midland Hotel in Manchester on May 12.

“It’s now about engagement and creating something memorable that people want to be involved in,” ​says Cunningham. “Moy Park invests in training and uses tools such as visible scorecards to ensure that safety underpins the culture and values of the business.”

Machinery and plant, meanwhile, represent the leading cause of fatalities in F&D manufacture, at a third, while also accounting for many non-fatal injuries. HSE blames inadequate guarding in 75% of cases, while cleaning was taking place during 25% of incidents.

Workplace transport (Return to top)

Workplace transport represents 25% of on-site fatalities, of which lift trucks are involved in almost a quarter of all accidents. Moy Park runs a series of working groups and safety steering teams across high-risk areas such as transport and, in 2014, introduced a Fortklift Truck Safe Driver of the Year award for which operators compete across skills tests and obstacle courses, with the initiative to be repeated this year.

Yorkshire-based A-SAFE makes a range of pedestrian guardrails and vehicle check systems, including bollards and stack protection buffers, for clients such as Nestlé, Coca-Cola and Unilever. While rigid metal barrier systems are more likely to result in damage to vehicle, floor and barrier (and personnel), A-SAFE says its Memaplex – a robust flexible blend of eight materials and rubber additives – flexes on impact and springs back into shape when hit by a large moving vehicle while transferring only 20% of the force to the floor.

Further major health and safety challenges for the industry include falls from height, which represent the third highest cause at a fifth of all fatalities, as well as 80 major injuries and a further 230 over-three-day absence injuries annually.

Slips and trips (Return to top)

A third of all major injuries, meanwhile arise from slips and trips, with HSE citing poorly managed work areas as the major cause while potential exists to cut serious injuries by 50% or more through slip prevention measures.

“As with most food manufacturing businesses, the most common health and safety issues are accidents such as slips, trips and falls,”​ says Cunningham. “At Moy Park, the health and safety programmes we have introduced have reduced overall accidents, as well as lost time accidents and days lost. We are proud that our health and safety records outperform food industry benchmarks.”

HSE’s figures place ‘struck by’ injuries at around 15% of reportable injuries, manual handling injuries at around a third of all reports (largely caused when lifting or lowering loads) and upper limb disorders or repetitive strain injuries at a quarter of reported occupational ill-health cases.

Around 40,000 new cases of work-related dermatitis arise annually, with the high incidence attributed to regular use of soaps/cleaners and wet work in F&D manufacturing. About 35,000 workers across all industries suffer from work-related breathing/lung problems every year, with grain dust, flour dust, fish or egg protein or spices of particular concern, while – with more than one million workers exposed to excessive noise in the sector – over 17,000 people suffer deafness or tinnitus as a result.

Diversified technology company 3M has formed a partnership with the Health and Safety Laboratory, an agency of HSE, to offer an interactive e-learning programme focused around hearing conservation.

Manufacturing processes regarded as particularly noisy include glass bottling; wrapping, bagging and packaging; processes involving pneumatic noise and compressed air; milling; sawing and cutting; and blast chilling and freezing. Blast chillers and freezers can reach reach up to 85–107dB, for example, and wheeled trolleys and racks up to 107dB from bearings.

3M recommends that employers assess noise levels and exposure in their plants and then act to reduce its impact. While 3M cites an HSE study suggesting that around 40% of workers using hearing protection are inadequately protected, over-protection is also a risk if workers cannot hear warnings. Arco, meanwhile, supplies hearing protection and monitoring equipment for on-site hearing tests, and specialists from its Training and Consultancy division can help employers by coming on site and making a full noise assessment.

“Hearing damage caused by exposure to noise at work is irreversible and can have a devastating impact on how you live your life,”​ says Matthew Green, technical sales specialist for hearing protection at Arco.

“IOSH believes that by embracing safety and health and having it at the heart of operations from the outset, rather than seeing it as a bolt-on or tick-box exercise, companies can achieve improved results both as a business and for their workforce,” ​says Boyle.

Specific food sector safety risks identified by the HSE (Return to top)

The Health & Safety Executive’s (HSE’s) basic principles for manufacturers are: Plan, Do, Check, Act. By sector, the key risks identified in HSE’s 2015 edition Recipe for Safety guide are:

  • Grain/flour/animal feed: handling and lifting; falls from height; slips and trips; exposure to substances; machinery; mechanical hazards; and transport.
  •  Bakery: slips; handling and lifting; struck by an object; machinery; and transport.
  • Meat/poultry/fish: slaughtering; being struck by an object; handling and lifting; slips; machinery; and transport.
  •  Milk/cheese: handling and lifting; slips; being struck by an object; exposure to substances; falls from height; transport; and machinery.
  •  Fruit/vegetables: handling and lifting; contact with sharp edges; slips; being struck by an object; falls from height; striking against fixed or movable objects; machinery; and transport.
  • Chocolate/sugar confectionery: handling and lifting; slips; being struck by an object; striking against fixed or movable objects; machinery; and exposure to harmful substances.
  •  Beer/spirits/soft drinks: handling and lifting; slips; being struck by falling objects; falls from height; machinery; exposure to harmful substances; and transport.

Related topics Hygiene, safety & cleaning

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