The food and drink manufacturing industry is huge in the UK. In 2019, manufactured food and drink contributed more than £28 billion to the economy. The industry employs over 430,000 people across the UK.
A common theme that carries throughout the industry is the risk of worker injuries. Whether it’s from worker illness or fatal accidents, those in a position of responsibility when it comes to the safety of workers should always understand the risks that jobs within the industry can bring.
A company’s productivity and profitability go hand-in-hand with correct health and safety procedures. If you want to improve the performance of your workers, you have to offer a workplace that allows them to do so. Reducing the chance of risk and injury by implementing best practice procedures is a must. It’s in both employers and workers best interest to reduce the risk of injuries as the cost of long-term illnesses can be devastating.
In this post, we will cover some of the most common risks workers face within their workplace. We will then provide some progressive steps to reduce the risk to your worker’s health and your companies financial integrity.
Regardless of the size of your operation, addressing these risks in a way that suits you is nothing but beneficial. The health of workers doesn’t have to be sacrificed to drive business performance.
Common Risks within the Food and Drink Manufacturing Industry
Risks in all aspects of the food and drink industry are placed in two categories. From occupational hazards that include risk of injury to long terms risks that lead to illnesses.
Injuries and accidents will always be a risk within industrial environments. Manual handling and repetitive motion tasks are commonplace so slips, trips and falls will always pose a risk to workers. Machinery related hazards will also be frequent if the appropriate protection isn’t offered to workers who are operating the machinery.
Long term health risks are harder to spot since they often come from as it often takes symptoms to appear before you’re able to realise them. This makes finding the cause of the risks as difficult as identifying it won’t be as obvious as spotting an injury risk.
Musculoskeletal disorders are one of the more common long term health risks within the industry. Strains and sprains are accepted to be caused by strenuous and repetitive motions. If this isn’t caught early enough, workers can develop chronic pain, numbness, swelling of the arms, hands and wrists.
These disorders are best reduced by implementing either the mechanisation or automation of demanding tasks. Postures should also be observed and best practices should be taught to workers so that they can best protect their health. Optimising work stations can also help to negate the effect of these injuries.
Noise-Induced Hearing Loss
Whilst not applicable to every company within the industry, occupational hearing loss is still a common long term health risk that people face in their workplace. The rate of which has never been greater than in the past 10 years.
Noise-induced hearing loss is the second most common claim made under occupational health-related employers liability insurance. A Medical Research Council survey provided an estimate of 509,000 people in the UK that are currently suffering from hearing difficulties as a result of exposure to noise at work. Current HSE statistics show that there are up to 21,000 workers that reported work-related hearing problems in 2019.
With the nature of food and drink manufacturing, it’s almost guaranteed that there will be inherent risks to workers.
Whilst statistics are enough to visualise the problem, the cause of it is harder to realise and to protect new workers from. Loud noises are inherent within the industry and adequate protection is usual practice in most company’s procedure. This can be confusing to those that are looking after workers health and well-being since the cause can be difficult to manage.
Studies have outlined the leading causes of hearing loss within the food and drink manufacturing industry which are:
- Product impact on food production lines
- Noises caused by pneumatic machinery and compressed air
- Operating CNC machinery
- Industrial chillers/freezers
When workers suffer hearing loss, everyone loses. Recognising the sources of loud and damaging noises and limiting workers’ exposure to said noise is one of the only things that can be implemented to reduce the risk of hearing loss.
Occupational Lung Illnesses
Long-term exposure to airborne irritants can lead to a wide array of lung diseases. Your average worker wouldn’t suspect that substances and compounds within the food and drinks industry could be harmful to their health, yet long-term exposure to something as harmless as flour can still lead to a lifetime’s worth of issues.
Flour dust is the UK’s second most common cause of occupational asthma. This includes statistics from all commercial sectors, not only with food and drink. To outline how severe this is, flour is beaten only by particles released from building materials like foam and concrete.
Like with most occupational risks, long-term exposure is the main cause of lung illnesses however even a single severe case could lead to complications.
Workers may show symptoms of illness if they’re experiencing a sustained period of coughing, shortness of breath, re-occurring chest pain as well as an abnormal breathing pattern. Lung illnesses are difficult for both employers and workers to pin down since the symptoms can be caused by a multitude of reasons. Existing health conditions like asthma can complicate things further, as well as workers who choose to consume tobacco products.
Masks and respirators are the usual solutions to occupational respiratory illnesses. However, due to the nature of the exposure, those that have been working in the industry for years may already have underlying illnesses that are almost impossible to remedy as the exposure is irreversible.
The risk that this presents to a business can be very damaging. Short term absences can leave a company short-staffed, whilst long term illnesses can result in large claims if the appropriate HSE framework wasn’t put into place.
Taking Steps to Protect Your Workers and Your Assets
Preventative measures are always the first step that any employer should take to reduce the risk to its workers. Any employer will want to proactively protect his workers to the best of their ability. With this being said, you may wonder if there is anything else you can do to further protect your workers and assets.
In the case of occupational hazards, employers should realise the bigger picture. More often or not, workplaces that have been operating for several years will have a history of HSE shortcomings. This will leave the company at risk from injury claims. Food manufacturing insurance is vital for companies that may have to deal with occupational health risks.
Whether it’s due to health and safety oversights or inherent risk with the industry, insurance that covers your sector is invaluable if the worst is to happen. In 2018, the cost of work-related injuries stood at £15 billion. It would be within your best interest to protect your business from cases as large claims can be devastating.
Minimising the exposure your business has to these risks will always begin with identifying and the potential hazards you face. Employing risk management procedures in the form of preventative measures and risk mitigation is always advised.
If you are in a position of responsibility for the health and well being of your workers, it’s up to you to decide what best practice is. Consider the worst case scenario and have a plan in preparation if that were to happen.