How Food Processing Equipment Can Improve Worker Safety

Each year over 5,000 injuries in food and drink manufacturing are reported to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) in the UK alone. Although this figure is high, workplace injuries in this industry have almost halved since the 'A Recipe for Safety' initiative was introduced in 1990. Whilst this is a considerable improvement, the food and drink manufacturing sector still has a lot to do to reduce injury rates in the manufacturing sector as a whole.

Why are injury rates so high?

Food processing is a high-risk sector to work in, with large-scale, complex, fast-moving equipment and production lines. This leaves operators open to a number of hazards such as wet surfaces, falling objects, fingers traps and trips and falls.

Operating and testing machinery contributes further to hazard exposure, where workers often have to climb ladders to reach machine interfaces, or remove products on conveyor lines for quality control and testing.

Machinery accounts for a large proportion of injuries, and conveyors are involved in 30 percent of all machinery accidents in food and drink industries – more than any other class of machine. Ninety percent of such accidents occur during normal foreseeable operations such as general production activities and clearing blockages.

How can we improve worker safety on manufacturing lines?

Whilst the responsibility of employee welfare lies with the company, food processing equipment manufacturers have also have a big part to play.

For companies, the HSE recommends a safe system of work should be in place for daily and routine hygienic cleaning of equipment to reduce the risk of injury from unguarded moving parts . The system of work used should be formalized and workers appropriately trained.

Equipment manufacturers should ensure systems are available with key safety features such as fixed guarding, lift out rollers and safety switches.

New metal detection technology for use in food processing is also now available to further support worker safety. Innovations include remote access to machine interfaces, reduced test mode resulting in fewer ladder climbs for difficult-to-access machines and automatic testing, which virtually eliminates manual intervention.

By reducing the frequency of metal detector testing using new reduced test technology, there is a corresponding reduction in the number of ladder climbs required by an operator to conduct the test, either to drop the sample through the aperture, or to access the machine interface to run the test routines.
Emulation technology allows the metal detector interface to be accessed and operated from a variety of networked devices such as a tablet or mobile phone, again reducing the need to work at height if the machine is installed in an awkward location.

Automatic testing virtually eliminates the need to work at height to conduct most routine performance monitoring tests, and removes the requirement for line operators to have to reach across installed equipment to drop the test samples through the aperture of the metal detector.

What next?

Managing health and safety is an integral priority for any company. For food manufacturers, risk assessments should be carried out and any sensible measures put in place to mitigate or control any identified risks on an ongoing basis.

When purchasing new machinery it is important to specify clearly the health, safety and hygienic design requirements for the supplier to meet and check that the equipment supplied meets your specification and the supplier has met their legal duties.

Statistics taken from the HSE website - and 'A Recipe for Safety' HSG252, 2nd edition 2015