Employees in food processing industries can face numerous health and safety hazards on the job. Some of these many risks include ergonomic, slip, fall, chemical and amputation hazards. Additionally, stressful, fast-paced work environments lead to accidents of varying degrees of severity. While much of the emphasis is on the safety of food products, the safety of the workers who make those products has seen more attention the past several years.
So what are some of the risks that employees on the food processing plant shop floor face?
Many potential work related illnesses are not unique to the food processing industry. For example, back pain, stress, noise damage, skin diseases can be found in all manufacturing environments. However, there are some risks that are unique to the food industry:
- The risk of combustible dust – A typical combustible dust explosion has two phases: an initial explosion within the processing equipment, followed by a secondary explosion caused by additional dust igniting and dispersing into the air. The food industry is particularly susceptible to these types of explosions. Virtually every ingredient used in food has the potential to become combustible dust, especially sugars, flours, starches, and spices.
- Musculoskeletal disorders – Problems with the muscles, tendons, ligaments or joints affect many people in the food processing industry. Over time, these conditions can not only cause debilitating injuries for workers, but they can also cost companies significantly in medical bills, workers’ compensation insurance premiums, and perhaps most significantly form a productivity viewpoint, low employee morale.
- Improper or non use of personal protective equipment (PPE) – Items such as gloves, goggles, and aprons, can greatly reduce workers’ exposure to harmful substances and environments. But only if workers actually wear them.
- Asthma – As many as 3,000 workers develop occupational asthma each year, while up to 4,000 more who already have the condition, are made worse because of their job. It is thought to be caused by an allergic reaction to airborne particles, such as flour or wood dust.
If these are some of the risks what can be done to mitigate them?
As you would expect the HSE (Health & Safety Executive) provides a huge range of advice on complying with Health and Safety Law and staying safe at work. A lot if this is plain common sense.
To protect workers from harm, employers are required to establish procedures and controls for dangerous equipment, safety and emergency response programs. However, they need to go farther than that to protect against some of the points highlighted above. For example, if we look at the dust risk, organisations should be adopting dust control strategies, including:
- Implement a hazardous dust inspection, testing, housekeeping, and control program;
- Use proper dust collection systems and filters;
- If ignition sources are present, use cleaning methods that do not generate dust clouds.
It is also about creating a “safety culture” within the organisation and this starts with the tone at the top because unless senior managers and directors do not buy in to the safety ethos then you will not create that safety culture. The absence of a top-down approach will doom any improvement programmes. However, with management’s support, employee safety committees will flourish. In a safety culture, companies constantly strive for continuous improvement and employees know that their safety is more important than keeping lines running at all costs.
One of things that underpins a true “safety culture” is training. The food manufacturing environment is only as safe as the people working in it and so providing regular, ongoing training is essential not only for worker safety and well-being but also for improved productivity, quality and ultimately bottom line results.
For more information on how HVDS can help you to create a safe working environment contact us at HVDS on 01785 256976 or firstname.lastname@example.org.