Food industry health and safety management post-COVID-19

By Craig Foyle

- Last updated on GMT

Foyle: 'The importance of personal responsibility should be encouraged'
Foyle: 'The importance of personal responsibility should be encouraged'

Related tags: Regulation, coronavirus, Training & recruitment

For several months, the food and drink manufacturing industry has focused on managing the ever-changing situation with COVID-19.

This has involved keeping businesses operating where possible, planning for a return to full production and then maintaining controls when people and processes return to some degree of normality – whatever that was.

Although managing COVID-19 has been a key focus, we cannot ignore our core safety and health responsibilities. In this article we highlight a few areas, but the list is not exhaustive by any means.

Our industry has had to deal with occupational health issues for many years, such as occupational asthma, dermatitis, noise-induced hearing loss and vibration white finger.

Occupational health assessments

One measure of how effective our controls are may be related to employees having occupational health assessments.

While it is always welcome for results to come back clear, meaning we are not harming employees, early signs of harm may be treated if detected early enough.

Many organisations have postponed health assessments due to the pandemic and we should have plans in place to work out how to catch up when access to assessments resumes.

Another key area relates to fire safety and how workplaces are designed to protect employees in the event of an emergency.

Compartmentalisation ensures that means of escape are protected, preventing the spread of fire on a premises. I have lost count of how many times I have seen fire doors wedged open in the name of ‘COVID’.

Fire risk assessment

Your building fire risk assessment should be reviewed prior to making any changes and those conducting the assessments should have suitable knowledge of fire safety. 

The controls put into place to manage the pandemic have significantly reduced the amount of training completed in recent months, particularly face-to-face training.

This is important for personnel at all levels of an organisation. It helps leadership teams to be aware of their responsibilities and really understand risk. It helps management teams understand how to implement practical risk controls that enable the business to function. And it helps workers understand how risks are controlled by knowing what to do, when to do it and what to do if something goes wrong.

Training plans

Organisations should review their training plans to ensure they do not lag too far behind as it is very difficult to catch up. A lot of training can now be delivered virtually, including Institution of Occupational Safety & Health (IOSH) courses, without losing the impact on workers.

The food and drink industry should have had suitable personal hygiene controls in place for many years. Dealing with the pandemic has raised additional challenges but also highlighted areas for improvement that will hopefully continue.

Perhaps a bigger challenge is the impact that employees may have on an organisation by what they do, or do not do, when outside of work. For example, commuting together in cars and socialising outside of government guidelines present a real issue for a company when an outbreak happens with personnel at work.

Personal responsibility

The importance of personal responsibility should be encouraged and this involves everyone.

Even though we have identified significant challenges to resources, the pandemic has provided opportunities to work differently which will enable businesses to be more efficient and save time and money.

A mixture of face-to-face and virtual meetings enables teams to get to know each other in person yet still communicate well in-between. 

IOSH has developed resources to help organisations and individuals work their way through the issues face by COVID-19. This includes e-learning materials, access to a suite of webinars, practical information on returning and much more. Go to https://iosh.com/coronavirus/​ for further information.

Craig Foyle is a committee member of the IOSH Food and Drink Industries Group and a former IOSH president.

Related topics: COVID-19, Operations

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