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.
How do organisations go about creating a safety culture, or more specifically for food processors, a food safety culture? In this update we take a look at what food safety culture is, and why it is so important to an organisation.
Firstly, what is food safety culture?
Well organisational culture is often said to be “The way that we do things around here” but more specifically, organisational culture is made up of the following three elements:
- The visible
- The spoken
- The invisible
1. The visible element is what can be seen, for example premises, equipment, staff activities and documentation.
2. The spoken element are those rules and processes such as management memos, town hall meetings, training and reward and recognition schemes
3. Perhaps most important however are the invisible elements, those things that are the organisations underlying values. The paradox here is that these elements are often the hardest to see, yet their impact on food safety culture within an organisation is very great.
What drives these underlying values is the tone at the top, the leadership and the level of commitment that management has regarding food safety.
In addition, other elements of food safety culture include:
- Business priorities i.e. the extent to which an organisation prioritises food safety and their overall attitude regarding food safety as opposed to other priorities like cost saving or revenue generation.
- Risk perception – The organisation’s perception and understanding of the risks embedded in a food production environment.
- The organisation’s perception of the effectiveness and validity of food safety regulations.
- Food safety ownership or the level of responsibility that an organisation accepts in relation to food safety.
- Competence – The level of understanding an organisation has regarding risk management procedures.
- Employee engagement – The level of commitment the wider organisation has toward food safety.
- Effective communication – The level of communication across the organisation and the freedom for employees to challenge procedures.
This all sounds pretty straightforward stuff, right out of the business school playbook. Well, if that it is the case it raises the questions why do businesses fail to create such a culture and repeatedly “miss the mark”.
There are 4 key reasons why this might be the case:
- Confirmation Bias – the human tendency to search for, favour, and use information that confirms one’s pre-existing views on a certain topic. This can be especially the case where there is a strong CEO or senior group that operates in a controlling way.
- The Illusion of Control – this is similar to the above as there is belief that “We know what we are doing so nothing will go wrong”.
- Cognitive Dissonance – the uncomfortable tension that comes from holding two conflicting thoughts in the mind at the same time. For example, you’re at work, and you notice that it appears to be okay for food quality checks to be done every 2-3 hours rather than the hourly standard that the employee manual states. However, if the company seems okay with it, you can see how you might be conflicted regarding what to do.
- Organisational Ambivalence – there are more important or pressing matters – cost control, production targets – to be addressed.
It is no easy task to create a positive culture in an organisation, however, the rewards are significant through factors such as increased efficiency, greater staff engagement and increased revenue numbers. A win for everyone.
For more information on how HVDs can help you to create an effective food safety culture in your organisation contact us at HVDS on 01785 256976 or email email@example.com.